On World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, experts say despite improvements, human trafficking has continued
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia
Promises of an attractive salary drove Abrhet Gebreegziabher, an uneducated 26-year-old from Ethiopia, to make a harrowing journey to Saudi Arabia, where she was employed as a domestic worker.
She is one of several repatriated victims of human trafficking undergoing psychosocial rehabilitation at Agar Ethiopia, a local charity in the capital Addis Ababa.
On the eve of the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, which is marked on Saturday, Gebreegziabher told Anadolu Agency she was trying to forget the traumatic journey that landed her in Saudi Arabia.
She, like many others, crossed the deserts of Djibouti on foot, boarded a boat to war-torn Yemen, and finally arrived in Saudi Arabia.
According to officials who spoke to Anadolu Agency, despite improvements in curbing human smuggling and trafficking in Ethiopia, job-seeking and ill-informed Ethiopian youths remain vulnerable.
Gebreegziabher said she and several young women and men left Qwiha, a small town in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, and began the dangerous two-week journey to Saudi Arabia.
“On the terrifying journey, some were beaten, sexually assaulted, and robbed by the smugglers,” she said.
She safely arrived in Jazan, Saudi Arabia, and worked as a domestic worker for more than two-and-half years.
“But life in Jizan was not as rosy as portrayed by our smugglers who were paid a huge sum of money by my poor family.”
She added: “I was deported for being undocumented and came back empty-handed with a son I gave birth there. My dreams and my family’s expectations are completely shattered.”
“I don’t know where to go from here and I don’t know my future,” she said, brushing away tears.
Fisha Melese, the program coordinator with Agar Ethiopia, told Anadolu Agency that the majority of the returnees do not want to go back to their localities and families because they harbor feelings of a failed life.
The charity has been providing financial assistance which helped many returnees to begin small businesses, he added.
However, he said, the trauma stays with them for a long time.
Aden Ayalew, a counselor with Agar Ethiopia, said some returnees from Middle Eastern countries experienced physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their employers and smugglers.
“It is worth mentioning in many instances, employers transfer their domestic workers to brothels and nightclubs where they were forced to work as sex workers,” Ayalew noted.
She added: “We have been receiving returnees who lost their minds and suffered from physical attacks and they have been receiving treatments.”
Hirut Yabade, the executive director of Good Samaritan Association, a local charity that helps the returnees, agrees.
“Persistently, majority of Ethiopian domestic workers were subjected to denial of salary, sleep deprivation, passport confiscation, and indefinite confinement to their workplaces,” she noted.
For several decades hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian women had been flocking to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and other Middle Eastern countries in search of jobs. They work as maids, nannies, and housekeepers.
A majority of the migrants are uneducated and unskilled women trafficked to these countries from rural areas via different routes.
”They are led by locally organized and interconnected smugglers who work in many parts of Ethiopia,” Meles said.
“Poverty, lack of jobs, inadequate social services, corruption, and conflicts are the basic factors that drive young women to migrate and fall into the traps of smugglers,” he underlined.
Curbing human trafficking
The Ethiopian government has put in place anti-trafficking laws that led to the prosecution of several traffickers and employment agencies that failed to implement strict rules of labor recruitment.
Besides, over the past couple of years, the government signed agreements with UAE, Oman, and Kuwait, while strengthening existing agreements with Jordan, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia to protect the rights of Ethiopian workers.
“What is being done to combat human trafficking which involves protection and reintegration of victims is commendable,” said Yebade.
However, she said, young Ethiopians continue to be trafficked by smugglers.