Briefing: Repatriation of Ethiopians from Saudi Arabia

The last week has seen an intensification of the government’s efforts to repatriate its citizens from Saudi Arabia, a process started at the beginning of November. Following the decision of the Saudi Arabian government to expel hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers of different nations living in the country, the Saudi authorities’ handling of the deportation process led to ill-treatment and abuse, suffering, beatings and even several deaths. The Government of Ethiopia, as we reported in a Week in the Horn last week) was quick to take action. The Government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, issued strongly worded condemnation of the violence and abuse of its citizens, summoning the Charge d’affaires of the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Ethiopia to demand explanations. It also requested an official investigation into the killing of Ethiopian citizens, demanding that the Saudi government refrain from use of unnecessary force and restrain its own citizens from causing harm to Ethiopians.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, also directly contacted Saudi government officials to unequivocally express the Ethiopian Government’s grave concern to ask for explanations of the situation and demand that the ongoing abuse of Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia was halted. The government’s efforts were not confined to diplomatic attempts to find solutions to the problems facing the Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia. From the outset of the crisis, the Government of Ethiopia demonstrated its commitment to extend all possible assistance and protection to its citizens in Saudi Arabia. To coordinate these efforts and bring back all the undocumented Ethiopians who moved into the temporary holding facilities set up by the Saudi authorities, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs set up a Command Post, chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to coordinate and guide all the Government’s efforts, both at home and abroad, and organize the process of repatriation. Last week, the first group successfully arrived back in Addis Ababa. The process is continuing.

Since the repatriation process has started, the condition of Ethiopians still in Saudi Arabia has also improved significantly. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with its diplomatic missions in Riyadh and Jeddah, has engaged the relevant Saudi authorities in an effort to improve the way Saudi officials are handling Ethiopian migrants. It has also been expediting the repatriation process for those without documentation. In addition to the staff of the missions in Jeddah and Riyadh, Ethiopian ambassadors to Doha and Abu Dhabi and additional senior staff from the Ministry have been sent to Saudi Arabia to assist the process of bringing Ethiopian citizens back to their home. As of the end of this week, nearly 15,000 Ethiopians have been successfully repatriated. The Government hopes to increase or at least maintain this rate of repatriation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working to simplify the practice of processing Ethiopians in the different holding centers in Saudi Arabia and to speed up the time it takes for returnee citizens to rejoin their families once they have arrived in Addis Ababa.

The Government has also taken on the task of finding effective ways to resettle and rehabilitate the returnees as well as facilitating the repatriation process. Initially earmarking 50 million birr for the immediate repatriation process, the Federal Government has also expressed its intention of integrating the returnees into the economic and social fabric of the country in the shortest time possible. Federal Ministries and regional governments held a meeting on Monday (November 18) to coordinate their efforts and start working towards the goal of prompt resettlement and rehabilitation for the returnees.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Tedros, emphatically expressed the Government’s commitment to see all the returnees fully resettled and rehabilitated during a visit to the returnees temporarily sheltering at the Civil Service University’s premises on Thursday (November 21). He struck an optimistic note when he explained that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was facilitating ways to enable the private sector, professionals and other concerned Ethiopians to complement the Government’s efforts to help the returnees to resettle. Dr. Tedros chairs the National Committee for the Repatriation and Rehabilitation of Returnees from Saudi Arabia. The Committee includes representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture, Labor and Social Affairs, Women Children and Youth and Health as well as from Civil Aviation and the Prime Minister’s Office. There is also a Technical Committee which is meeting daily and reporting to the National Committee.

The Government has not confined its efforts to those returning. It has done everything possible to extend support to all Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia who have been affected by the situation, during the original period of the amnesty and the extension granted at the request of Ethiopia, and after this ended. This has not just involved undocumented migrants. Earlier, the Foreign Ministry and the missions in Saudi Arabia have been working overtime assisting those eligible for legal documents to allow them to reside and work in Saudi Arabia. They successfully helped more than 38,000 Ethiopians get the necessary documentation.

The events of the last few weeks, and the situation so many Ethiopians found themselves in Saudi Arabia, points up the dangers of choosing to migrate to a foreign country, without having fully explored economic opportunities here in Ethiopia, and without observing the due processes of immigration required in another country. This, in particular, makes it difficult for the Government to take effective action to protect citizens abroad and limits the possibilities. The result is that people can be subject to unnecessary misery and abuse. At a recent meeting (November 18), the National Taskforce established to deal with the issue of human trafficking, confirmed that repatriating Ethiopians from Saudi Arabia should be given priority, but it also urged government officials at all levels to exert every possible effort to mobilize the public against the problem of illegal human trafficking. The recent ban on work related overseas travel underlines just how seriously the Government takes the problem and demonstrates its resolution to try and bring an end to illegal migration from which so many have suffered. The ban, put in place at the end of October, was issued to provide for space to agree comprehensive labor agreements and provide for full rights for all Ethiopians working abroad. The Government is now working urgently to sign agreements with all the relevant countries.


Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nov. 22, 2013, titled “Repatriation: putting an end to the suffering of Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia”.

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