Addis Ababa — The return of 120,000 young undocumented migrant workers from Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia has sparked fears that the influx will worsen the country’s high youth unemployment and put pressure on access to increasingly scarce land.
As a result, a growing number of young Ethiopians are choosing to migrate to Sudan to circumvent an indefinite travel ban slapped by the Ethiopian government last month on Ethiopian workers traveling to Middle Eastern countries.
Esther Negash, 28, is from a family of nine that lives on a four-hectare farm dedicated to growing maize in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. She has been out of work since leaving school 10 years ago.
Negash’s family recently decided to use their savings to fund her migration to Khartoum in search of employment.
“In the last two months, there have been many people returning from Saudi Arabia. This makes things worse for people like me who cannot find work,” she told IPS.
“The rains were short this year and we did not have a good harvest. My family is large, if we don’t get a good harvest then it is very difficult. We heard about work opportunities in Sudan and thought this was our only solution.”
A large number of Ethiopians migrate every year in search of brighter economic prospects, with the Middle East being the dominant destination.
Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on undocumented foreign workers began after a seven-month amnesty period expired on Nov. 3. Since then, 120,000 Ethiopian migrants have been repatriated to Ethiopia after being corralled in a deportation camp for two months, where conditions are reportedly abject.
Many Ethiopians have reported human rights violations at the hands of their employers as well as while under the control of security forces inside the camps.
IPS spoke to a 23-year-old woman who had just arrived in Ethiopia after working as a domestic in Riyadh for two years. Her account is similar to many other experiences narrated by returnees.
“My employer would sexually abuse me and beat me. I was forced to work seven days a week, 20 hours a day. I was not allowed to leave the house. It was hell,” she said.