Friday, 4 January 2013

Ethiopians in the Middle East


Twenty years ago, my cousin returned from the Middle East totally incapacitated, physically as well as psychologically. I recall that people were talking about her doomsday, that she threw herself down from her employer’s many-storey building. She was paralyzed from her neck all the way down to her feet. Even more, she got a rumbling mind that she kept crying and insulting all day. I recall how her parents were devastated by her condition, as they expected her to win her life and then to be a role model to her siblings. After battling with all sorts of complications and excruciating pains for months, she finally passed away, leaving behind a psychological scar to the family. The scar was the result of their guilt for allowing her to leave for the Middle East while they were and still are the richest persons in their town.

Following her death, I started thinking about questions such as these: why did she left for an Arab country in the first place while having a decent quality of life with her parents? How and why a person of her age threw self from the top of a building? Why did the people who lived with her, including her employer, failed to understand her condition ahead and intervene to save her life? Who should be held responsible for her untimely death? No body answered my questions as I never shared them with anybody until I joined Addis Ababa University for my undergraduate studies. There and then, I discussed the issue with my good-hearted friends. After our discussion, I understood that the issue has personal, familial, societal, economical, and political dimensions. 


After more than two decades now, thousands of Ethiopian youngsters leave for that oil-pampered region called the Middle East. There is no credible statistics about their exact number but some estimates put it in hundreds of thousands. Of those who leave Ethiopia, a few appear to lead a successful life, turning themselves in to accomplished traders, investors, and brokers. A limited number of them are able to send some dollars to their family back home. These two groups of immigrants are the ones who attract the ears and the eyes of millions of young Ethiopians back home. The latter hear about the former’s success stories and want to do the same by all means. Their dreamlands are countries of the Middle East. Attracted by the good stories and of course won by the persuasive propaganda’s of irresponsible travel agents, they make all the sacrifices required (such as getting Islamic names and borrowing money for their travels) to head for the Arab world. The root cause is of course poverty and these days starvation back home.  

The majority, who are from rural Ethiopia, find themselves at a higher risk. Several are being killed by their employers for a whole number of reasons. Several others are committing suicide just to shorten the incomprehensible earthly suffering. Several others are, due to abuses of all sorts, getting physically and psychologically incapacitated. Since, recently, there are some others who start to kill their employers. By all accounts, the region is the most inhospitable spot on earth to Ethiopian women. Being an immigrant woman and a housemaid is nothing but being a piece of moving object created to serve some Arabs. This is what disturbs my mind. The horrors of our sisters should be heard loud and clear by all freedom-loving people. I am neither belittling the Arabs nor their culture and religion. I am against the incredible cruelty some of them have against our sisters.   

I believe in the free movement of people as it is their natural right. What am concerned about is that 1) job opportunities to rural youth are extremely limited, 2) our sisters do not get first-hand genuine information about work conditions, salaries, and modes of life in the Middle East before their departure, and 3) the Ethiopian government and other agencies do not work hard to safeguard the safety and security of youngsters once they start working and living in the Middle East.

Still, the problem is too big to be ignored. I believe that this problem is manmade and can be solved. I identified three mitigating strategies and one permanent solution. These are just few of the many alternative approaches that might exist out there; having some to initiate discussion is helpful.

Job opportunities

The rural youth leave Ethiopia mainly for economic reasons. There must be a policy that makes sure rural youngsters have something to make for their living. The government focuses on ‘empowering’ urban youth; equal intervention must be taken to enable rural youth to cope up with the cost of living. Rather than forcing kids to pass through a protracted process of joining university, many of them must be trained in some of the key vocations. The quality of education and training must be significantly improved so that students acquire needed competencies and skills. Be it in agriculture or the service sector, there must be an attractive opportunity for the youth. If there is for the youth something to hang out with, they may not have that burning desire to leave and die in a foreign land. We could then think of banning such unproductive travels entirely.

Complete ban

Rural youngsters are leaving. The educated are leaving. Business people are leaving. Even senior citizens start to ask asylum in the West. Who has the decision to remain back home? Because of this scale of migration, the future potential of the nation seems highly compromised. Banning migration is illegal and is impossible. But when it is done to avert catastrophes such as what happens in the Middle East, it has a moral justification. In a way, a ban of the sort is tantamount to saving thousands of lives every year. Given the current handling of Ethiopian youngsters by the Arabs, and given the absence or lack of regulatory mechanisms from our embassies, it is justified to ban immigration to that region at least until the Arabs enforce laws that protect the rights of employees. Before the ban, we have to create employment opportunities back home.

Information is power

If the aforementioned mechanisms appear impractical for whatever reasons, we could eye on providing timely information to potential travelers so that they could make informed decisions. Urban youth appear at an advantage when it comes to knowing the goods and evils of going to the desert ‘oases’. The rural youth, who are dominating the exodus now, do not have a vivid understanding of  urban life. They even are ‘aliens’ to life and living in Addis and in other major cities and towns in Ethiopia. They have no clue when it comes to 1) communicating with foreigners,  2) managing modern house chores, 3) salary and workload, and 4) living conditions and abuses such as rapes and punishments in the Middle East. The media, parents, friends, the government, and other civic organizations must explain these and other issues to those who think of flights. The information should be provided in such a fashion that it discourages illegal and even legal travels. Or, the information should help them to make informed decisions.

Work conditions and pays

If we still believe in the right of Arabs to possess our sisters as slaves, we have to play different. The role of Ethiopian embassies is crucial here. I heard that some sort of contract is being entered between employers/brokers and employees in Addis. But that does not translate into action. Compared to immigrants from other countries, Ethiopian housemaids are paid the least salaries. Are we any cheaper? We are of course one of hard-working and smart workforce in the world, with astounding success and work ethic. The problem is that there is nobody who could fight on behalf of our rural youngsters. They do not have the language and communication/argumentation skill to face their employers. Their embassy is supposed to make deals on their behalf. I am not saying that our embassies in the Middle East are totally idle on this matter; I am saying that their contribution is hardly noticeable. To me, there is no more pressing need for an embassy than to intervene between life and death.

My suggestion to our embassies there is that they should make deals with employers on a whole set of issues related to employees. One, they should make sure Ethiopians are employed at the same salary scale as other immigrants are employed. Two, the embassies must ensure that at least the minimum work conditions are fulfilled. Three, they should come up with a mechanism to ensure the timely payment of salaries. Four, bring to the courts those employers who abuse their employees. Five, create a sort of association for Ethiopian immigrants so that it could be tasked to follow up on the daily conditions of its members. Six, stop advertising that you would bring cheap labor from Ethiopia. This sort of ads makes you appear even cheaper before Arab eyes. If you have to advertise, tell potential employers that you could bring them youngsters for employment on a competitive basis. Seven, do not consider political affiliation while helping immigrants. There are other places and scenarios where and when playing politics does not cost, at least in terms of human life. These sorts of efforts along with international pressure making would bring good results.

International pressure

Our embassies are too limited in their capacities to deal with this problem alone. The Ethiopian government, the Diaspora, political parties, civic organizations, and religious institutions must create a unified front to pressurize Arabs to respect international conventions related to human rights and employment. Open letters addressed to governments, employment organizations and their embassies must be written. The approach must be as diplomatic as possible. If governments and employers do not listen to our cries, threaten to disclose their worst handling of human rights to international media and organizations. Indeed, it is useful to attract the attention of the ILO, the UN, the EU, the US, and other multinational corporations. If the cry is loud and full of evidence, we might be heard and we could bring some change. Similarly, scholars should be invited to conduct studies that explore the daily horrors of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians. Based on empirical evidence, interest and pressure groups could be easily formed and maintained.   



  1. It is unfortunate, we have a very cruel, irresponsible, unaccountable, corrupt, unethical,… government. TPLF came with some bizare concepts of civilization. The EPRDF cadres believe this is Meles Zenawi’s raei. They will brush away this news. It is not a big deal for them. It is okay for them. But in general, we are a failed nation who could not handle our problem. Our problem has now even gone out and we become a laughing stock of the world. No African girls or women go anywhere and sell themselves. We call other fricans tikuroch? now we are behind the tikuroch. Almost there is everyday an Ethiopian girls killing herself or throwing herslf somewhere in the middle east. The regime has done anything. It is promoting it. I remember Hailemariam Desalegn saying he is preparing to send more girls when he was a foreign minister. We are the most denegerated, hopeless generation Ethiopia have ever seen. Although I know this is the out 120 years oppression. This generation was supposed to handle the problem better.
    We must be all ashamed very much. We are shameful. We have no dignity, integrity anymore. We are a lost generation. Now Ethiopians used to bad news and things. It is not a big deal. Opposition do not do anything than vying to takeover arat kilo.They do not do any community work to improve or educate the public. Opposition in other countries run projects and help people to improve their lives. However, Ethiopians spend fabricationg unfounded stories to insult each other. We are shameful: shame on us.

  2. Allah Ak bar ! Allah Ak bar! Allah Al bar !
    Islam is the solution !
    Having Islamic name & travelling towards Islamic countries for the sake of money is “Haram/Forbidden” by itself.
    Most Ethiopian non islam women change their name to Islamic name & cheating Islams in Arabic Counties. This is not acceptable. They have to change their religion to Islamic belief.
    The Almighty Allah will bless them & give whatever they want.
    The muslim world knows your government “Government Ethiopia” is attacking muslims inside their country & other muslims brothers & sisters inside Somalia.
    Ethiopia is getting money and working with America & Israel by killing Innocent Muslims to destroy Islam from Africa.
    Why the writer is blaming Arabs?
    We Arabs are helping those women who came our country by changing their name to cheat us like they are muslims.
    We don’t want any Ethiopians here in our country & blame arabs by writing Arabs done this & that.
    Allah Ak bar !

    1. Hi Saif,

      First of all I disagree with your recommendation "Islam is a solution". You musilims have never been solution for what ever the problem. You are always creating complicated problems where ever you are. I really sorry to say but the ideology you are following under the mask of quran is really fanatic. Be wise on all aspect.

      With regard to innocent young women who fled to Arabic countries is only for seeking of JOB nothing more. But why are you Arabs are so cruel than the Ethiopian government do? Why you throw them from your apartment? why you boiled them with hot water and oil? Why??? Where is the humanity after all??? What is your feeling if these happen with your sisters, daughters, mothers? Is it only because of they are chating you? You know Ethiopia is a country of innocent, respectful, loyal and humanistic people. We were very innocent when Islam came to Ethiopia when Arab was in trouble. But you feel like Ethiopia is the land of Muslim. No no no don't be fullish. Ethiopia will never never be muslim land. Our beloved Ethiopia is a land of Christianity.

      God bless Ethiopia.

      Addis Ababa

    2. You are right brother Muslim. I agree with you this is immorality at its best. I know Ethiopians girls wear Hijab while they are not muslims. That is very bad honestly. Why go to countries who do not respect humman as human? your statement is right. We have to blame ourselves instead of Arab. Leave alone to respect our women, Arabs do not even respect their own women. No one should expect meat from Hyena. Arab women are running away from the middle east to Europe, North America. Why Ethiopian change thier name and go to hell on eath and to be raped, killed, … ? madness
      I also agree Islam has to be outlawed not only from Ethiopia, but from the earth. Islam = Devilish = evilness. Islam has burnt 18,000 communities in the past 12 years. We Ethiopians must stop going to the barbaric arabs and build our relation with western world who are civilized and respectful. Islam has to be eradicated from the face of earth before it is too late.

    3. well said !!!
      We need to get rid of these barbaric islam-nazi laws.
      look at what happening in Nigeria, somalia, Niger, Mali etc… all these countries are suffering from Muslims terrorists: mass murder. If we let them coming here, ethiopia might be like these out dated, antique, barbaric and evil middle east..

    4. Saif, you are right in one thing; that Ethiopian women change their names and wear hijab, eventhough they are not muslims.But let me bring this to your attention what i witnessed right after September 11 2001, here in the USA. Many Arab taxi drivers changed their names to Christian names, you know why? just to continue living their life without fear of being labelled ‘muslims’, so now tell me is this considered haram or is it forbidden in your religion?or its ok since it was done by Arabs? Most Arabs are hypocrites,cruel,racists and backwards.Arab men treat their women just like pieces of furnitures; you use them and discard them when you are through with them.Yes, you are right, we Ethiopians should prevent our women from going to all the Arab countries.It is time for the Ethiopian government to come up with some kind of plan to prevent Ethiopian women from emigrating to Arab countries once and for all.

  3. Dear Teklu,
    Well articulated piece.Please look into my insight too.

  4. Dear Teklu,
    Exllent observation, espcially the little enocent girls leaving the country shoked me when I saw it last June when I visited Addis. We need to help our childrens; We need to do some thing about it right now. I am going back to ethiopia in may 2013 again and I wanted to do some thing about helping these kids.If any one is interested please I like to hear from you. Leasing our firtile land to Indians and other for 99 years created unsetling feeling it feels like willingly being colonized. That is how we lost Djibuti!!
    Thanks for bringing these issues to our attention.

  5. Dear writer Teklu Abate(Phd.),let me first say that I sincerely appreciate your genuine reflection on extremely worrisome and frustrating issue of which Ethioians are facing both within their own country and abroad . I also appreciate not only expressing your concerns but also your recommendations in a kind of”neutral/balanced or kind of apolitical “fashion. And although the stories of endless and shockingly miserable lives we contiune to face as individual citizens and as a people are not uncommon, I found your discription which includes your personal experience deeply touching. I also found your suggestive views on how to deal with the crisis are intersting but not practical as far as the political game being played is part of the problem,not the solution as simple as you tried to be optimistic.
    However,I have to say that despite the fact that the recommendations you outlined ( job opportunity, complete ban, information, work conditions and pays, how to create international pressure) are the right things to do, I do not agree with your premise which did not go beyond saying ” the root cuase is poverty .” I strongly believe that the very root cause of our age-old and endless abject poverty,ignorance , sufferings and dying from starvation is our history of severe lack of good governance. Do we have a problem of natural resources ? Do we have severe lack of educated human resource? Do we really have a problem of hard working people ? Do we realy doubt that most highly qualified Ethiopians or Ethiopian origin would volunteer themselves to make developmental miracle if we are fortunate enough to have a political system that belongs to the people? Do we really doubt that those who flee their country would not be willing and be able to work hard and support their families leave alone themselves if they were fortunate enough to live in a country under a political system they freely voted for and make it responsible and accountable?
    Dear commentator Teklu Abate(Phd.), I have to say that your highly simplified recommendation can work only under normal political circustance, not under an extremely abnormal/ill-guided political environment such as ours.
    I do not know what kind of information we are seeking for while the parasitic cadres and even diplomats serving the inner circle of the ruling circle dominated by TPLF are parts and parcels of this horrible situation.

  6. Excuse me sir,I do not know how it makes sense to expect job opportunities to all innocent citizens in a country where jobs are reserved for millions of political armies/or cadres of the hypocritical and dysfunctional ruling circle. I really do not know how it is reasonably to be optimitic about your appeal to the a government/ruling circle to create job opportunities to those unfortunate citizens while we are witnessing graduate citizens are taking over the jobs of unskilled citizens . I do not know how your appeal works while the prime minister of a country is telling us that jobs such as coblestone are great for those professinanlly traind graduates . I am not underminig those jobs. What I am saying is that it does not make sense at all to humbly appeal to a ruling party that has never been considerate enough about the sufferings of those who are not associated with its dirty political game in one way or the other.
    I do not think banning the movement of the people who flee their country for their own various reasons is the right thing to do. It is not constitutional at all. Yes, it is absolutely necessary to seriously negotiate with the host countries concerning the rights of those citizens who are aleady there and those who would be going. Dear writer Teklu Abate(Phd.) , Ethiopians who are working for Chinese companies in our country are being terribly mistreated and even raped and even severely biten and killed by Chainese in collaboration with security people assigned to protect those companies in their own country, and the government/the ruling circle has never shown any sense of concern leave alone taking practical steps. You see now how we look like so naive when we appeal to the the govermnet to protect those abroad while it is not interested to protect citizens who are being dehumanized by foriegnes who are there for making profit for themselves in the name of investment? Sir,being optimistic and polite is a good thing .But, I do not believe this has a convincing power when it comes not only to a very terribly irresponsible but a very tyrannical political ruling elite of our country . I do not think we can mitigate our severe socio-economic illnesses simply by treating symptoms or by keeping going around the bush instead of directly but rationally attacking the very root cause ( very dirty political game).
    Let me conclude by saying that unless we are honest enough with ourselves concerning the issues we are dealing with and couragous enough to go deep into the very cause of the crises we are facing, I am afraid that we are becoming victims of the dirty political game going on in our country.
    With all due respect!
    And have a great time duddy!

    1. Dear T.Goshu,
      I appreciate your careful assessment of my paper. Thank you very much!

      I just want to briefly react to your concerns.
      M paper is intended to initiate fruitful discussions such as yours.Yours are gained simply because of this paper. If we keep on discussing ideas/issues in a civilized way- as you did-, we could come up with a shared basis of understanding.

      I know that the governance system there is responsibele for several of the problems Ethiopia is facing. Am well aware of the scale of corruption, nepotism, .... in the country. But I believe that we need to cry loud and clear when our rights are compromised, when the youth are in agony in the Middle East, ....
      That means, I personally believe in peaceful struggle no matter what the reality out there is. Peaceful struggle never materialized in Ethiopia so far not because of the nature of the mode of struggle itself but because of the absence of commited leadership. No one wants to lead as that brings sacrifice of some sort.
      As a citizen, I keep on suggesting ideas to all concerned stakeholders, not just to the government.While doing so, I have to accept reality- praise good beginnings and curse bad ones. I do not believe in political fanatism either. But I do this not to appear 'balanced' or accomodating but to live the truth as it reveals itself on the ground. I believe in cumulative change by say forwarding simple ideas which might appear impractical. My motto is this: tell the thief that he is a thief. So I tell the government to improve jobs for the rural youth.
      Do pls keep on doing your good job. We need people who seriously take and challenge ideas. Thanks again, Goshu!!!

  7. Brother T. Goshu,
    Good comment: but you did not give any alternative solution? What we must do? How do we address this problem? I know the government is not the type of we want. Can we remove the government without killing each other? without insulting each other? Without talking about amhara or tigrie or oromo? I have to be honest, I am not able to live comfortable life because of the bad things that happen to Ethiopians across the world. Are we going to continue to lament?
    I will love to hear your proposal. I am also tired of Ethiopians suffering. Ethiopians are now sheeps with no shepherd. The leaders wolves who are hunting the people and begging on their name and they became big men by gun.They are to power, too ignorant, too arrogant to lisen and understand. In the face of the reality. I live in Canada. The Canadian government looks aftr every Canadian. Chilren under 18 are not allowed to make dangerous decision about thier lives. TPLF/EPRDF government is shiping girls as young as 12 years old. I dare say the leaders wicked, immoral, selfish, uncaring, glutton who have no any human value but cruel human being. Their heart is harden as stone. We are all to blamed for all these. is there away out of this? or continue listening to wushet propaganda from EPRDF, ESAT, G7,… ? Let me know what we must do.

  8. Teklu I would like to thank you!

  9. Dear Teklu,

    First of all thank you for bringing such an important issue for a dessication. I appreciated your candied and fare presentation of the condition of our country politically, economically and socially. You have given credits where it is due, you did not lump some every thing together as negative like most of the diaspora's depiction of the state of our country.

    I read your observation on your blog " most troubling fact on Ethiopia" and really disturbed me greatly; especially about our young Innocent and vulnerable girls. We became the nation that do not value our next generation, who are going to be the back bone of our supposedly double digit economy in the future. In a few years when we need this labor force are we going to invite the Indians again to take over! These exodus of our young is a shame to all of us, and the magnitude of the consequences may not be known now but we will be judged by history if we do not do anything about it.

    Since we do not know the number of exodus, the long term effect could be grave and equally or so to some degree similar to that of the trance Atlantic salve trade to the north and south America in the ~1914-1918. The loss of the African content yang, strong and productive part of the society were paramount; some historians and economists agree that Africa's stunt economic growth in nineteenth and twentieth century may have the result of this loss of productive human power.

    In June 2013 after a short visit in Addis I arrived to the air port to take my flight to the US and got surprised by the sheer number of these kids leaving their country. I spoke to a sixteen years old girl, she said that she has two brothers and a sister that she has to support. Her parents had died for some years ago, and she is the sole person who is raising them. She was going to Libya but she had to fly to Istanbul and back to Libia to make the flight connection. She had had to stay another thirteen hours in Istanbul airport for her flight to Libya with no money on her hand even to buy coffee or water... The amazing part is that I staid for eleven days in Addis and no one was talking about it, neither the people nor the Media (ETV and Radio). Although I did not know personally any one that experienced such horrendous acts of cruelty on the hands of these stupid Arabs it did not left my mind the image of these Innocent young girls dragging their luggage's at the air port. These incidences that you had described and others stories that I have read on the net really begs the question of the need to establish some sibilance of a social safety net so that a sixteen years old does not have to take the burden of four lives including hers.

    I am not a sociologist or I do not know exactly how but I feel passionate about this and other social issues we need to address as a nation. I am a molecular biologist by training and I live a quite satisfying life here in Seattle. However, I am always ashamed of hearing about our starving and fleeing story of our people. I feel that we are the core and the sole source of the solution, but absolutely not some eighteen years old Piece Corp American.

    I have been contemplating to open some kind of institute that provide training and Job with dignity and pride to these kids, and made an attempt to reach out to the diaspora affair here in US but did not get any feedback

    I left my country as a young girl a couple of years older than the girl I have met at the air port almost 30 years ago. Right now I do not have any clue how things work in my own country. I tried to extract information from the diaspora forum and the diaspora affair to no avail.

    You or any one who wanted to collaborate and do some thing practical on the ground please let me know. Keep up with the good work, and hope to hear your reflections.


  10. Dear Teklu,
    I have shed tears on the phenomenon destroying our precious ladies from Africa, especially Ethiopian who are by nature the family tree.....of Noah thus jews by blood, and pride of Africa who defeated colonizers under Menelik! and flash out colonizers in Adoua Victory.
    Allow me to tell you that I started some campagne against this practice by speaking to priest, pastors and other government officials ....God will bless you in the work you are doing....we should lobby hard to have all recruitment agencies that send our sisters, daughters, wives etc overseas ...banned it is a devilish human trafficking diguised in bread giver or recruitment agencies.....I will tell you more soon.
    I look forward to hear from you before we continue.

    God bless you,

  11. Dear Teklu,
    The situation has been persistent for years! and the number of girls in those neo slavery apparatus is in thousands.. to tackle this seriously, we should see the possibilities of creating a Non-Governmental Organization(NGO) in East Africa(Ethiopia)-west (Sieera Leone)-and central Africa (Bangui), every country we must contact and explain to all religions and their Priests, Pastors, teachers, elders, government officials, border police,National Human rights agencies all the civil societies through a well prepared petition to ban foreign recruitment agencies of girls no matter what!past permit that allow them to operate should be cancelled and those agencies closed, most recent or existing agencies should be taken to court! and ban thereafter. Throught the NGO a massive campaign documented with maids movies and live testimonies from those who have had those bad experiences, should be shared with naive girls from the cities to rural areas including their parents who think life in those arab countries is a paradise life! No one would accept what these girls who are their daughters, sisters, wives go through. Having lived and worked in one of those countries with an international organisation I made myself some Ethiopian friends the story they would tell is sadand shcoking....I always end up making contribution for them to go back home if their passports were released by their captors....while others are in jail sick. In 2010 i was on leave when i returned i heard one Ethiopian has come to the church to ask for financial help to go home the church helped but when she got home she died from head wound...she had here from her captor. Years back our great grand parents were chased by arabs, and some coward africans and sold, today we can't stand and watch it happening again!
    In order to have a financial back up to do this successfully memos should be addressed to many companies, churches and embassies established in African countries with details explaination to support the NGO. Other types of fund raising can be implemented as theNGO increase its activities. The NGO will focus on campagn against human trafficking by disguised companies, and mass education and information of the whole population. Young ladies should be educated to create activities in their communities....and there are many ways to do that.
    Please let me know if you want me to do more by drafting the NGO statute, etc....we can work together.
    May God bless you


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