The deteriorating security situation in Yemen is leading the country down the path to civil war, putting millions of civilians in danger. These risks are not limited to Yemeni civilians, as the Bangladeshi foreign ministry has today confirmed the deaths of two Bangladeshi foreign workers. The workers were employed on a farm near the Saudi-Yemeni border when they were killed by cross-border mortar fire by Houthi rebels.
Currently, Saudi Arabia is leading an Arab League air campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen. These rebels, together with supporters of ousted Yemeni dictator Saleh (deposed during the 2011 Arab Spring) are fighting the Western supported Hadi government. Complicating matters, Houthi rebels are largely Shi’a Muslims, whereas Saudi Arabia is Sunni. This has led to accusations that the conflict is a sectarian one, with allegations that Shi’a majority Iran is supporting the rebels. Consequently, Saudi involvement has led to shelling attacks by Houthi rebels, resulting in the aforementioned deaths.
Saudi Arabia is highly reliant on foreign labour, with Riyadh sourcing workers from across the Muslim world; notably the Indian sub-continent. Currently some 2.5 million Bangladeshis work in Saudi Arabia, constituting a major segment on the Saudi work-force. Moreover, remittances sent back to Bangladesh are a vital source of income and foreign exchange reserves for the country. During the fiscal year of 2013/14, Bangladesh garnered $14.23 billion in remittances, of which $3.12 billion were from Saudi Arabia.
The killing of these two Bangladeshi workers could have larger impacts, as foreign workers may become reluctant to work in Saudi Arabia for fear of being assigned jobs close to the border. Fighting in Yemen is already impacting the labour market in Saudi Arabia, as traditionally Yemen has been one of the main source countries for foreign workers in Saudi Arabia. Lacking the usual Yemeni workers, Saudi Arabia has had to increase quotas from other countries in Asia, thus increasing labour costs and impacting the Saudi bottom line. A further restriction in the labour market could undermine the stability of the economy, which due to low oil prices is already weakened.