Strategic observation

Feature: As Saudi amnesty deadline nears, undocumented Ethiopians return to uncertain future

2017-08-08 01:59:05 (Beijing Time)


ADDIS ABABA, Aug. 7 (Xinhua) -- As a twice extended Saudi Arabia amnesty deadline for undocumented migrants to voluntarily leave approaches, undocumented Ethiopians are trickling back to an uncertain future.

Lubaba Kedir, 27, cradling her 6 months old daughter, said she had to forfeit 2 months of pay from her Saudi employers as she had to hastily return to Ethiopia before the end of amnesty deadline.

Kedir had been living illegally in Saudi Arabia doing domestic works, to support her efforts to buy an apartment back in Ethiopia. With the Ethiopian father of her daughter having secured valid expatriate residency papers months ago, she had to leave Middle East's largest economy by herself or risk being forcibly rounded and deported.

"My mother is dead and I'm estranged from my father, and with my income severed now I'm afraid I won't be able to afford to buy an apartment," said Kedir.

However, she said she appreciates the assistance given by the Ethiopian government and fellow Ethiopian volunteers as she ponders her next move before moving out of a sports complex turned migrants' shelter located in the heart of Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Kedir is one of an estimated 70,000 undocumented Ethiopians that have returned home so far before the end of Saudi amnesty deadline on Aug. 24th.

Another 60,000 undocumented Ethiopians have registered at Ethiopian diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia to return home.

Ethiopia has one of the highest numbers of undocumented migrants in Saudi Arabia, with some estimates putting the figure at about 400,000.

Originally issued in March by Saudi Arabia as an Amnesty program for undocumented migrants to voluntarily leave the country in 90 days, the deadline has been extended twice partly as a result of Ethiopian government lobbying for extension.

With a growing population of around 30 million and an international oil price drop, Saudi Arabia is on a drive to indigenize its workface currently dominated by millions of legal and illegal migrants.

Wary of a repeat of November 2013 debacle when a deportation round by Saudi authorities on illegal migrants left many Ethiopians in Saudi detention camps and returned home penniless, the Ethiopian government has put preventive measures to protect its citizens. It is also providing all the basic necessities the returnees need on arrival.

Melaku Tessema, head of protocol at the Ethiopian Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MoLSA), said returnees are provided foreign exchange services at the airport and accommodation spots before moving to their home areas.

MoLSA together with other governmental bodies has provided 15 buses operational 24 hours a day to take returnees to their local areas.

It has also provided separate baggage handling site protected by police against theft, readied ambulances and set aside medical wards in five state hospitals in Addis Ababa for migrants to service sick or injured returnees.

The Ethiopian government has also dispatched a dozen diplomats in its embassy in Riyadh and consular offices in other Saudi cities to give consular advice to stranded Ethiopians.

It has also put advertorials in Ethiopian electronic media urging relatives of Ethiopians illegally residing in Saudi Arabia to persuade them to return ahead of the expiry of the amnesty deadline.

Noting that Ethiopia's still largely agrarian economies will for the foreseeable future struggle to meet the needs of all its citizens, Ethiopian government has also started signing overseas employment agreements with oil rich Gulf nations.

Already in May the Ethiopian government signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia government for an overseas employment agreement to help future legal Ethiopian migrants.

While coordinated efforts by Ethiopian government bodies have ensured that most returnees have returned in a safe mind and body state, others caution that a long-term strategy is needed to deal with Ethiopians illegally migrating to foreign countries.

Abebe Aynete, senior researcher at the Ethiopian Foreign Relations Strategic Studies (EFRSS), a local think tank, said the Ethiopian government should intensify efforts for Ethiopians to be self-employed through provision of credit for Small and Micro Enterprises (SMEs).

While lauding Ethiopian government in efforts to create mass employment through establishment of Industrial Parks, Aynete urged an education of Ethiopians on dangers of illegal migration and availability of job opportunities in Ethiopia as another solution.

"With Ethiopia having 100 million people, it's both a potential asset and a burden, but an efficient bureaucracy providing good governance is needed if the population size is to become an asset," he added.

While Aynete speaked of a long-term solution to the migration issue, for Worku Haile, one of an estimated 500 volunteers in Addis Ababa providing assistance to returnees, the task is about providing immediate relief.

"I help with provision of food, water, sleeping bags and mattresses to returnees as well as guarding returnees' belongings from being stolen," said Haile.

"We also work tirelessly to connect returnees with their families as part of our mission to make them smile and happy to return," he added. Enditem