The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has recently stated that the nation is exerting strenuous efforts to safeguard the rights of citizens abroad and facilitate the repatriation of those who are in bad situations. The statement was issued following the 90 days deadline, active since March 30 was given by Saudi Arabia to deport undocumented foreigners. (It is to be remembered that the Saudi Arabian government issued the same statement in 2013 to deport undocumented foreigners, including Ethiopians who were illegally living and working in the kingdom).
True, thousands of Ethiopians are living and working in Saudi Arabia, most of whom are domestic helpers. Some have gone there via legal documents and authorized agents, while others have migrated illegally, via unauthorized agents and uncertified documents, without any guarantee and credentials to use during time of emergency.
During the previous repatriation of citizens from Saudi Arabia, thousands of domestic helpers had complained that they faced unspeakable hardships including torture, rape, hunger and physical abuse while living illegally as they were at the mercy of their house owners or employers. Some employers are known to be cold-heartedly denying their workers the rights that must be enjoyed by every human being. Particularly, Ethiopian women have been facing abuses while working as maids in the Middle East, including sexual assault, confiscation of passports, withholding of their salaries and confinement by their employers.
Most are undergoing inexpressible suffering due to traditional belief that travelling abroad may help live better life: most migrants consider migration to Arab countries as life changing and take it as a privilege for granted.
Currently, this tradition and illogical perception of migration, further compounded by the involvement of illegal and dishonest traffickers is exacerbating the life of migrants. Some also lost their lives at sea, in the desert or at work.
As a consequence of the escalated illegal trafficking and the suffering of migrants, Ethiopia has banned illegal trafficking and forbidden its citizens from going to Arab countries to work as domestic helpers. Particularly, the unfortunate mission of repatriating citizens from Saudi Arabia in 2013 had urged the government to enact anti-trafficking law that administers tough penalties on traffickers and provides greater victim protection.
Through the ban, the government targeted the recruitment of low-skilled domestic workers to the Middle East, which is being put in to effect until the establishment of bilateral work agreements with recipient countries and the enactment of a revised employment exchange proclamation. The agreements would allow for greater oversight of private employment agencies, mandate the placement of labour attaches in Ethiopian embassies, and establishment of independent agency to identify and train migrant workers.
Since then there is commendable progress on negotiating new agreements with Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, South Sudan and the United Arab Emirates. These agreements require governments to be committed to ethical recruitment, apply legal remedies against those who violate the law and provide equal protection for Ethiopian workers. It includes paying appropriate wages for work, applying acceptable working hours and leave time. Memorandum of Understanding had also been signed with neighbouring African countries, particularly Djibouti, and on an ad hoc basis with Kenya and Sudan aiming to provide joint border management to include repatriation assistance for trafficking victims.
Moreover, the government had enacted a comprehensive anti-trafficking law since 2015, which overhauls existing legislation to define and punish trafficking offences and to expedite measures to support victims of trafficking. It also passed revised overseas employment proclamation, which, if fully implemented, would penalize illegal recruitment, improve oversight of overseas recruitment agencies, and extend greater protections to potential victims.
The proclamation provides extensive protections and rights for trafficking victims, including protection from prosecution for acts committed as a result of being subject to trafficking. The government has sustained its efforts to prevent and raise awareness on trafficking-related crimes through its community conversations project. Better than the previous times, currently, the government has started to address trafficking problems, including child trafficking, and focused largely on transnational cases.
The government is committed to enhance its efforts to convict traffickers, including for internal cases, and compile and share trafficking statistics as well as improve the investigative capacity of police throughout the country (to increase speedy trial of human trafficking offences; and train law enforcement and judicial officials on the anti-trafficking proclamation).
The nation is also exerting multi-pronged effort towards enacting legislation to ensure penalization of illegal recruitment and improving oversight of overseas recruitment agencies; revising, amending and implementing the overseas employment proclamation. Equally important, the seriousness of the issue has awaken the government to assign and train labour attaches, investigate to find out and prosecute unauthorized recruiters and providing awareness enhancing training for labour officials, among others.
Furthermore, Ethiopia has strengthened efforts to prevent trafficking and has endorsed a five-year action plan to combat trafficking and incorporate feedback from civil society stakeholders. It has also established national committee that guides local officials and citizens in the establishment of anti-trafficking units and disseminated the 2015 Anti-Trafficking Proclamation.
Likewise, local governments are employing community conversations to enhance awareness-of the people and curb the problem of human trafficking from its origin. Accordingly, they had hosted and facilitated hundreds of sessions throughout the country, including four regions that have registered individuals with greater number of external migration.
Currently, in view of their unfathomable problem, the government has attached prime significance to welcoming the repatriation of Ethiopian citizens living in Saudi Arabia. The government is also working to reduce the pain and maltreatment of citizens in Saudi Arabia. Particularly, it is negotiating and discussing with Saudi Arabian government to safely repatriate citizens to their homeland, without any human rights violations. To this end, the government has set up command post accountable to the PM Office. The command post is vested with the power to follow up the visa and immigration affairs of citizens in Saudi Arabia.
The Ethiopian Embassy in Saudi Arabia has put in place a mechanism to give valid credentials to Ethiopian citizens to help them return home safely, without any burden to wait in queue. The Embassy has called on all Ethiopian citizens to communicate information to all their contacts in Saudi Arabia and help undocumented citizens register, obtain credentials and easily travel back home.
Considering the worsening situations, the government is working dutifully to close all venues of illegal migration to Arab countries, not by erecting tough iron bars, building rock-hewn fences and enforcing stringent laws, but through enhancing awareness about the disadvantages of travelling abroad via unauthorized agents that employ phantom allurements to entrap innocent individuals in to their mazy and unceasing exploitation, misery and enslavement.
Ethiopia is interested to ensure the safety of its citizens at home and abroad. Most importantly, it is striving to create habitable environment here at home through development to enable all citizens to work hard and live in. It is also adamant on the implementation of legal migration process through legal and responsible agents that provide sufficient life, travel and property insurance.
Over all, Ethiopia is trying to desiccate the problems of human trafficking from its source. The government believes, the lasting panacea to the malignant problem of human trafficking are realizing attitudinal change of citizens and creating citizens that are abhorrent to illegal migration (to Arab countries) and opting to look for decent jobs at home: home sweet home!