By Lulama Moyo, ECADF
Human trafficking is a huge issue that plagues Ethiopian communities. But trafficking beyond the country’s borders has added more complexity to this issue. Many women, men, and children from Ethiopia have been subjected to forced labor and exploitation of all kinds. They are taken from Ethiopia and are brought to countries mainly in the Middle East as well as countries like Egypt, Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen. Countries in the Middle East have have been found to have a large percent of Ethiopian females enslaved there. According the research thesis by Elias Ashene called, “Trafficking of Ethiopian Women and Girls to the Middle East”, there is early evidence of illegal movement of Ethiopian women. Ashene has found that that between 1996 and 1998 there were 2,247 legal immigrants from Ethiopia in Middle Eastern countries.
But by 1999 there were 17,000 Ethiopians found in Lebanon alone and by 2003 there were 25,000. Ashene concludes that this large increase in numbers is due to illegal means. As human trafficking and modern slavery in Ethiopia grow in impact, so does the Ethiopian governments denial. According to an article in the Ethiopian Press Herald entitled, “Ethiopian Human Trafficking Victims Predicament”, the government would rather claim that all movement of Ethiopian people to the Middle East is voluntary even with the evidence that it isn’t.
The main reason Ethiopian women have been lured into domestic slave jobs is by looking for better jobs under false pretenses. There is a frequent circuit of trafficking through the Ethio-Sudan border. Women are continually misled by promise of legitimate housekeeping jobs with wealth Sudanese businessmen. A woman who returned from being trafficked in Dubai revealed that she knew of women who were forced to work in Sudan after being told they were in transit to Bahrain (IOM, Endeshaw). The route that traffickers bring people from Ethiopia is through the Sinai Desert. Many of the trafficked women are taken to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. Narrative from an interviewed woman who barely escaped death from trafficking is quoted saying this about her experience:
“When I left my village, I was confident I would reach Khartoum safe and find a very good job…I was thinking just how hard I would work and help my poor parents who were in problem to cover their basic expenses. I was dreaming about the successful and joyful life I expected in my new country.”
“They said ‘take off your coloth!…I said ‘No – so they beat me up severely and forced me to have sex with them.”
“When he asked me: give me the money in your pocket? I said no…So he beat me on my face with iron pipe and dragged me away. I don’t know what then happened. When I opened my eyes I found myself in a hospital taking a medical treatment. And the doctor told me that I was even stapped with knife.”
- Workie Endalkachew narrating for Betre Yacob’s article, “A Shocking Tragedy Behind Human Trafficking in Ethiopia: One Woman’s Horrific Story”.
Workie’s words illustrate the gruesome reality that many trafficked people face. As I have found more information on cross-border human trafficking, I learn that migration plays a huge role. Besides people choosing to leave Ethiopia to seek better opportunities, many are forced to do this as refugees and forced migrants. As Ethiopians journey to different countries with the hopes of starting a new life they are taken for ransom and/or trafficked. An example of this is the migration of Ethiopian to Saudi Arabia via Yemen. Ethiopians are smuggled by small boats to Yemen where they believe they will continue their journey to Saudi Arabia. But as revealed in Human Trafficking of Ethiopians to Yemen, smugglers often turn on Ethiopian travelers and rob them of their money. If they don’t have money they are held for ransom. If their families are unable to pay the ransom they are taken to torture camps where they are beaten, raped, blinded, and often murdered. Because of the tremendously high corruption, lack of solid government, and large rate of gangs, trafficking is easily done in Yemen. Accounts from young girls that are featured in the YouTube clip reveal that Yemeni military are responsible for some of the trafficking that goes on. The military sold women to gangs, rapists, and torture camps, and sometimes raped women themselves.
The human trafficking of Ethiopians to different countries is a devastating realty. It adds a different dimension of how to understand trafficking in the country. Because people leave Ethiopia under so many different circumstances it’s hard to develop statistics and create data of the trafficking. Having found out that Ethiopia’s government has little to no policies about trafficking, I am frustrated. It’s vital that they acknowledge how much human trafficking, kidnapping, and slavery is ravaging their communities. If policies end up being created it will be important for the government to not one consider the issues that are going on in Ethiopia, but they will need to consider the cross-border trafficking. In this post I have uncovered what it means for Ethiopians to be trafficked in different countries. You will receive a more in-depth look at the experiences of children and women that are trafficked from my blog-mates.