The cargo entrance of Ethiopian Airlines has been busy these days past few weeks. It has been hosting thousands of migrants originating from Saudi Arabia who have suddenly been transported to Addis Ababa with little regards to their wellbeing.
Inside a cargo plane belonging to Saudi Arabia Airlines, meant to transport live animals exported from Ethiopia, these young people, many of whom in their teens and early 20’s, took a four hour flight home, compared to the many months it took them to reach the land of opportunity that they never ended up realizing. In their travels there, most paid scarce resources, endured abuse – both physical and emotional – and the selected few ended up joining the life of a privileged migrant, the dignity of dead-end jobs in the kitchens of the privileged in a Saudi Arabia society that looks down on the vulnerable.
Placed at the mercy of a nation with little resources and non-governmental organizations such as The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNICEF attempting fearlessly to help in the midst of donor fatigue to such human tragedy, more than 5,000 Ethiopian citizens suddenly came with little preparation beforehand, for their families and theirs and more are expected to come in the coming weeks.
The operation to start deporting migrants began in Saudi Arabia in 2017 as the corona virus pandemic started to become an issue. Naming the campaign – A Nation without Violations – a Donald Trump like idea of finding an easy target out of the most vulnerable, the kingdom gave time to have a half a million people depart the nation within mere months.
IOM, which facilitated the needs of the migrants, estimates, about 360,000 plus people have come home so far, not counting the latest returnees and more are coming.
In Addis Ababa, overwhelmed with the needs of the returnees, the operation was suspended last month when Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia agreed to stop temporarily sending them after the nation was overwhelmed with dwindling resources to accommodate the quarantine needs of those that arrived and put pressure on the government.
Berhan Berhe, a 17 year old, was one of the many who returned to Ethiopia from Saudi Arabia recently and is now part of a program that is being implemented by UNICEF with the financial support of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development.
According to UNICEF, the program is a two year program meant to improve vulnerable people by training social workers and building a data management system.
After reaching there via Djibouti and Yemen, enduring much, including being detained by captors for several months and abuse and frustration, he finally reached Saudi Arabia looking for a future, only to be detained and be returned to Ethiopia.
“I believed if I went to Saudi Arabia, I would be able to support my mother and three siblings”, he told UNICEF’S Feven Getachew.
Like Berhan, thousands of young people with the promise of opportunities that is never within reach, travel to Saudi Arabia, often to a society that often mistreats migrants, offers them little protection and throws them out whenever they want.
Many pay agencies for the right to be provided an offer of employment so they can legally travel there. However, the majority with no money to pay, end up taking an easy way out, with cheaper avenues, passing through several nations. Many have lost their lives and the abuse has only increased, forcing a number of non-governmental organizations to help educate them against illegal migration.
A number of donors have also focused on creating employment at home, more specifically within Ethiopia’s Industrial Parks and others, in order to have them join the once booming economy of the nation that has managed to create thousands of jobs in the last few years. This comes as Ethiopia has also implemented a number of modern and progressive policies to allow likely immigrants, specifically refugees to work in the nation.
Sources told The Reporter of the overwhelming psychological needs of many, those who works for years only to be refused payment at the end, long hours of work slaved in the wee hours of the night, worse, sexual abuse that was never addressed at the end when most were suddenly deemed vulnerable to the virus and transported home.
The initial quarantine center was at Bole Preparatory School that overflew and forced many to sleep next to each other, breaking the protocol on how to curb the spread of the virus that has overwhelmed many nations. Images of filth and overcrowd of people forced the government to quickly find them an appropriate location.
Even then, at the newer and bigger quarantine locations, there were issues of overcrowd, reducing the idea of isolation and many were placed in confinement next to each other.
“Ethiopia continues to receive thousands of migrants returned from countries across the region and the Middle East, in response to the COVID-19 global health pandemic,” IOM said in a statement. “We are assisting more than 9,400 migrants in the country’s quarantine facilities. Migrants have been sent back to Ethiopia from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, and other countries over the last few weeks”.
The Ethiopian Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Ergogie Tesfaye (PhD) last month visited one of the quarantine centers in Addis Ababa to witness the hospitalities of the returnees and converse with them, joining IOM’s Chief of Mission Representative of Ethiopia, Maureen Achieng, as well as the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Ethiopia, Catherine Sozi.
“IOM’s quick response and support for returning migrants in Ethiopia is always appreciated,” Ergogie said. “As the coronavirus response requires harmonized efforts from all, we appreciate the coordinated support we are receiving from UN partners as well”, she said.
The Ethiopian government has taken the support of Saudi Arabia to its developmental goals and economical aspirations to heart. The Gulf nation has donated millions to support the recent reforms and to some, that may explain the diplomatic approach the country is taking to address the sudden influx of people that have become a burden to the nation.