Presenting his office’s half-year performance report Thursday, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Abdulfetah Abdulahi was questioned by MPs about the failure to restore overseas employment following the expiration of its ban, which was originally intended to last six months.
The travel ban was imposed in 2016 following the mass deportation of tens of thousands of “undocumented” Ethiopian maids by Gulf countries, mainly from Saudi Arabia. In addition to the forced deportations, the plight of migrants who have been abused by human traffickers had prompted the government to impose the temporary travel ban until the introduction of a new legal framework that would bring a “lasting solution” to the problem.
Following the travel sanction, the House in 2016 approved two proclamations against human trafficking as well as on overseas employment with a view to ensuring the well-being of citizens and preventing illegal migrants and human traffickers.
However, many MPs at Thursday’s session questioned the minister why it took this long to enforce the new rules.
One MP questioned the wisdom of keeping citizens idle even though the sanction should have been lifted a year ago, while another one warned that the longer the sanction remained in place, the higher the risk of putting job-seekers at the mercy of human traffickers. “Though it has been two years since the proclamation was enacted, it has not been enforced. This excessive delay has now created a fertile ground for illegal migration,” a female MP observed.
Responding to the questions, the minister told MPs that his office had already submitted a recommendation to the government to lift the ban, and it is awaiting a decision by the Council of Ministers.
Abdulfetah also explained that the ministry had already prepared draft agreements with three employee-receiving countries, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Lebanon. The draft document had also been sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.
“However, we are still awaiting the government’s decision to lift the ban and to sign agreements with these countries and to begin issuing licenses to agents as well,” he told MPs.
He also indicated that he expects an agreement would be signed with Lebanon soon while another agreement would also be reached with Saudi Arabia.
He also said that 21 erstwhile-licensed employment agencies have also been barred from facilitating travel abroad.
Meanwhile, of a total of 820 new and 178 existing agents who applied for licenses, only six have qualified to get licenses based on the new proclamation.
However, the House urged the ministry to speed up the implementation of the proclamation despite the factors the minister mentioned.
The government has been working towards a stricter legislation and creating job opportunities to curb illegal migration through which countless Ethiopians had lost their lives or undergone untold physical and psychological trauma.
It is to be recalled that the government had taken various measures to limit the suffering of citizens, including the setting up of a national council and a task force to educate them.
The government has also been criticized since the measures had not been able to address the problem sufficiently. According to experts, the lack of employment opportunities is a major factor fuelling emigration from Ethiopia and neighboring countries.