Ethiopian girls as young as thirteen are being trafficked to the Middle East. The situation is so out of control that an otherwise pro-government publication has felt compelled to speak up.
This is not a small rogue operation. It is human trafficking on an industrial scale, with a wink and a nod from the Ethiopian government. According to various news reports, up to 45,000 Ethiopian women are trafficked each month to Saudi Arabia alone.
Ethiopia’s ruling group is only interested in the foreign exchange earnings generated on the backs of these vulnerable women. The Obama administration remains silent on this issue because the war on terror and alliance with an African tyrant is deemed more important than the lives of millions of poor Ethiopian women.
A blind date with destiny
June 9, 2012
Presently thousands of Ethiopians in their youth are flocking to the Middle East. A person who happens to be at the immigration authority or at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs here in Addis Ababa is bound to be surprised by the throng of young women they witness teeming in and around the offices of these institutions.
For an onlooker the women seem to be gathered to stage a protest or to celebrate some kind of event, and not to obtain the documents needed to leave the country for work.
Nobody, including us, is arguing that Ethiopians should not be allowed to go abroad and earn their living by selling their labour. This is a right they enjoy.
This said, we are of the firm belief that when Ethiopian citizens travel overseas in search of a job they must do so in compliance with all requirements and their rights and dignity must be protected; they should not be subjected to any degrading treatment that brings shame and dishonor both on themselves and their country. It’s only when the benefits far outweigh the downsides that they should work abroad.
The reality, however, is far from this. The majority of the young women that embark on completing the formalities required to go overseas for work are underage girls recruited by crooked dealers from the rural parts of the country who lie about their ages to obtain a passport. Some are as young as thirteen or fourteen. This is disheartening, to say the least.
Though these young women are informed that they will work as maids in Middle Eastern countries, most of them have no knowledge about the cultures and traditions of the countries they will travel to and are unskilled in the tasks they are expected to perform; they do not receive any training or orientation. This compounds the problem.
Given that they have no clue about urban life, they encounter all sorts of difficulties from the moment they arrive at the capital. They do not know what time to come to the airport for departure or where to go to once they get there, making them liable to various forms of ill-treatment. They begin to experience humiliation right at home.
The indignity does not end there, though. It follows them to their country of destination as well. They are not provided with adequate shelter upon arrival. And as they are compelled to surrender their passports, they cannot return home whenever they wish. Aside from this they endure both physical and mental abuse, which result in the untimely death of some and forces others to resort to crime.
To make matters worse there are reports that Ethiopian workers are being abducted and threatened with death if their families do not pay a ransom. Families that expect their daughters to send some money are on the contrary selling their cattle and other prized possessions to save the lives of their beloved ones and becoming even poorer than they already are.
Reports also abound of Ethiopian refuges being misled about where they are migrating to and ending up as forced labourers, prostitutes or victims of organ harvesting. As a result they are suffering from a nervous breakdown, committing suicide or turning to crime.
All in all Ethiopian workers overseas or refugees who flee in search of a better life are subjected to egregious abuses that have terrible consequences and are a source of utter shame for them, their families and their country.
Why is this happening to us? Isn’t there something we can do about it?
There is and there should be. The responsibility of finding a holistic and prompt solution, understandably, rests on the shoulders of the government. This calls for it to conduct an in-depth analysis of the nature and cause of the problem as well as the policies and procedures currently in place and come up with a comprehensive solution.
On our part we believe the centerpiece of the government’s obligation in this regard should be to formulate and execute policies and plans aimed at enabling the youth in Ethiopia to improve their livelihood right at home without having to go abroad.
Alongside this the government needs to ensure that when it is determined that citizens and the country stand to benefit from the migration of labour it properly regulates the whole process so that unscrupulous human traffickers do not cause the harm they are inflicting on citizens and the nation. Issuing a statement declaring that such and such number of Ethiopians have left the country for work does not amount to discharging one’s duties as a government. Accordingly it is important to establish in addition to and independent of the immigration authority and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs a government agency tasked with ascertaining that citizens desirous to go abroad for work have attained minimum age, are healthy and receive the requisite training as well as with monitoring whether their rights and benefits are respected and, when necessary, facilitating their return home in a dignified manner.
Generally speaking we should not be blinded by the hard currency Ethiopian workers or refugees remit. We need to remind ourselves of the physical, emotional and financial toll it takes on the workers/refugees and their families as well as the humiliation and indignity it subjects Ethiopians and their country to.
Let’s not sell out our citizens’ dignity for the sake of the income derived from selling their labour.