Welcoming repatriates home versus desiccating human trafficking
The Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) on 04 April, 2017 stated that Ethiopia has decided to construct three industrial parks targeted to create job opportunities and benefit refugees camping in Ethiopia. The parks are anticipated to create 100, 000 jobs. The parks would be constructed in collaboration with the local community where the refugee camps are located, close to sites where refugees are sheltered.
Job creation is part of Ethiopia’s promise to undertake nine projects and improve the living condition of refugees camping in Ethiopia. In this regard, PM Haile-Mariam Dessalegen, while participating refuge-related meeting held in New York in 2016, had hinted that creating jobs to 30,000 refugees is high on the national agenda (though, it is a drop in the ocean to the country that hosts over 800,000 refugees from Eritrea, South Sudan, Somalia and other African countries).
The 500 million € allocated to construct industrial parks has been secured from the European Union, World Bank and UK. The road map used to construct industrial parks has been finalized, while feasibility study is going on to construct labor-intensive factories and employ refugees in the production of textile, leather and food processing.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had recently stated that the nation is exerting strenuous efforts to safeguard citizens abroad and repatriate them to their homeland in a dignified manner. The statement was issued by Ethiopia following 90 day deadline, since March 30, 2017, given by the Saudi Arabia to deport undocumented individuals (it is to be remembered that Saudi Arabian government had issued the same statement in 2013 to deport undocumented foreigners, including Ethiopians who were illegally living and working in the kingdom).
Untenable fact, thousands of Ethiopians are living and working in Saudi Arabia, most of who are domestic helpers. Some have gone there via legal documents and authorized agents, while others have migrated illegally, via fraudulent agents and uncertified documents, without any guarantee and credentials to use during the time of emergency.
During the previous time of repatriation of citizens from Saudi Arabia, thousands of domestic helpers had complained of facing unspeakable hardships, including torture, rape, hunger and physical abuse while living illegally; they live at the mercy of house owners; some employers are known to be callously denying their workers the rights that must be enjoyed by every human being. Particularly, Ethiopian women were and are facing abuses while working as maids in the Middle East, including sexual assault, confiscation of passports, withholding their salaries and confinement.
Most are undergoing inexpressible ordeal due to the traditional belief that, travelling abroad may help live a better life: “eliff silu elf yigegnal”, meaning in Amharic somebody will chance better life if he/she migrates; most migrants consider migration to Arab countries as life changing and take it as a privilege for granted.
Currently, this mystical tradition and illogical perception of migration (further compounded by the entrapment of dishonest traffickers) is exacerbating the lives of migrants, as bad as losing their lives at sea, in a desert or while working in the houses of their owners.
Taking these problems into account, Ethiopia has banned illegal trafficking and forbid its citizens from going to the Arab countries to work as domestic helpers. Particularly, the regrettable mission of repatriating citizens from Saudi Arabia in 2013 had urged the nation to enact anti-trafficking law that administers tough penalties on traffickers and provides greater victim protection.
The government had maintained the ban on the recruitment of low-skilled domestic workers to the Middle East, which is being put into 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 labor attaches in Ethiopian embassies, and the establishment of an independent agency to identify and train migrant workers.
Since then, there has been 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. A Memorandum of understanding had also been signed with neighboring 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 offenses 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 subjected 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 enhancing its efforts to convict traffickers, including for internal cases, and compile and share trafficking statistics; improve the investigative capacity of the police throughout the country (to increase speedy trial of human trafficking offenses; implement, distribute to, and train law enforcement and judicial officials in 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 awakened the nation to assign and train labor attaches, investigate to find out and prosecute unauthorized recruiters and providing awareness enhancing training for labor officials, among others.
Furthermore, the nation 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 a 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 enhancing awareness-of the people and curb the problem of human trafficking from the start. 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 this of their unfathomable problem, the government has attached prime significance to welcomingly repatriate 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 the Saudi Arabian government to safely repatriate citizens to their homeland, without any human rights violations. To this end, the nation 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 and 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.
Cognizant of the ever worsening dangerous situations, the nation 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 disadvantage of travelling abroad via dishonest agents (that employ phantom allurements to entrap innocent individuals into 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 interested to create a habitable home through development that enables all citizens to work hard and live in. If not, it is adamant on the implementation of legal migration process through legal and responsible agents that provide sufficient life, travel and property insurance.
Overall, Ethiopia is trying to desiccate the problems of human trafficking from its source. It believes, lasting panacea to the malignant problem of human trafficking realizing attitudinal change of citizens; generating citizens that are abhorrent to illegal migration (to Arab countries) and opting to look for decent jobs at home: home sweet home.