Trafficking in Ethiopia and the Gulf

Text Donald Boström

Several young women are sent to the rich gulf states by their families with the hope that they will earn money to send back home. But things do not always turn out as they had hoped. Instead the young women are severely exploited and vulnerable to abuse.

The pleasant afternoon sun warms the women who move noticeably slowly over the courtyard. It is still not possible to make contact with some of them after the traumas they were subjected to. Some of them are just sitting, looking down at the ground while others are standing in small groups talking. It takes a long time of recovery and care for them to return to a normal life in the community.

The Good Samaritan Association in partnership with the Union of Ethiopian Women Charitable Association, (uewca) provides safe temporary shelter – a refuge for women who have been subjected to trafficking in the Gulf States.

Here they are given food, lodging and care until they psychologically and physically recover and be ready to meet their parents again. Apart from the extreme psychological trauma the ‘shame’ they experience is a heavy burden.

They have failed in their tasks and the family’s dreams for the future have come to nothing. Added to this everyone understands what they have been subject to. They themselves do not explain in detail what has happened to them. They say that the men tried to have sex with them but did not succeed.

The shame is so great that it takes a while before they dare to meet any of their family members.

Wosen Tamiru, 21, tries to talk about what had happened to her. Her family took a joint decision that she should go to the Gulf to earn money for the family. Three cows were sold for a total of 10,000 birr. All of the money was given to a middleman except for what was needed to pay for the passport. The middleman offered Wosen a job as housekeeper in a family in Saudi Arabia for a salary of 240 birr( a month. In contrast to many of her sisters she had a certain amount of experience of modern households from the capital, Addis Ababa. Even if she is not familiar with all of the modern domestic machines, she at least knows what a vacuum cleaner is. Many of the other girls grew up in remote rural areas and had collected firewood to sell. They had never heard of domestic appliances and arrived in the modern kitchens as if they came from another planet. In many cases the maltreatment starts then, when the young women cannot use an iron correctly.

“Everything went well to start with,” says Wosen. “I worked for a family with two small children. For fifteen days everything was fine. Then they moved me to another family. They locked me into the house. I was given food but wasn’t allowed to work. They wanted to force me to sleep during the day and stay awake at night whilst they tried to rape me. I refused and succeeded in escaping to the agency that advertised the jobs. The staff at the agency then locked me in for ten days.

“What happens in most cases is that the girls are sexually mistreated by the husband and son in the family and also other relatives. 

“It was a real dilemma,” says Wosen Tamiru. “I wanted to go home but could not because of the shame. Coming home without money hit me hard.”

Muku Mohammed, aged 23, sleeps in the same room. Her story is identical. Kokebie Beyne, aged 20, sleeps in the top bunk. She still cannot speak after her experiences.

“I recently met my mother for the first time since I arrived here six months ago,” explains Wosen . “She was completely shocked and we both cried.”

uewca, the Umbrella Organisation supported by Sida, actively cooperates with the Good Samaritan Organisation, which is its Sub-grantee. They work in conjunction with Ethiopian Airlines to find and contact the women in need.

When they land in Addis Ababa people know which of them are the victims. Ambulances regularly wait at the airport and transport the women to the hospitals or a clinic depending on the severity of their injuries.

“When we opened the shelter in 2012 we planned for an operation for ninety women a year. We have now already taken care of 300 women,” says Bekio, who is responsible for the operation. “At last the government has responded and is introducing measures to stop the suffering.”

Donald Boströmwomen