Ethiopia seeks to protect migrant workers from abuse in Middle East

Monday June 08 2015

Ethiopian immigrants returning from Saudi Arabia arrive at Addis Ababa's Bole International Airport on December 10, 2013. Thousands of Ethiopians facing harsh economic realities at home seek work in the Middle East, but many face abuse, low pay and discrimination. AFP PHOTO | JENNY VAUGHAN.

Ethiopia is seeking to safeguard its migrant workers from abuses in the Middle East through a new law, a government official has said.

The legislation hopes to protect Ethiopian migrants who suffer from mental and physical violations in the Middle East, the director of communication at the Labour and Social Affairs ministry Mr Girma Sheleme said.

He said Addis Ababa will benchmark experiences of major skilled labour exporters in the world such as the Philippines, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

“Ethiopians who travel to the Middle East used to take a half day pre-departure orientation. After the new law, which is expected to be passed by Parliament in the coming weeks, all Ethiopians travelling to the Middle East will be required to take months of free training by the government, mainly on housekeeping and caregiving,” Mr Sheleme said.

The Addis government has since last year banned it citizens from travelling to the Middle East in search of jobs as domestic workers and unskilled labourers.

The ban was aimed and protecting Ethiopians from persistent abuses.


The favourite destinations for the Ethiopians include Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

“The reason we banned the travel was to examine the gaps in our laws and practices in order to prevent the abuses on our citizens in the Middle East,” Mr Sheleme said.

The draft law also requires the government to have bilateral agreements with recipient countries in order to make the latter accountable for any eventualities befalling the Ethiopian workers.

Among the major causes of dispute between the Middle East employers and Ethiopian workers is lack of basic housekeeping and communications skills by the latter, according to Mr Sheleme.

In order to address this problem, the government is planning to start free vocational training in six regions, including Addis Ababa.

“This training will not only target job seekers to the Middle East countries.

"In addition to equipping the travellers with the necessary skills, the training will also enable them to work within the country in hotels and restaurants,” he said.

Many Ethiopian domestic workers are often reported to be victims of severe abuses by their employers in the Middle East.

The reported cases range from psychological to physical torture, with some leading to death.

Within the last five years, close to 500,000 Ethiopians have travelled to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the other neighbouring states in search of employment.

Three times the figure is estimated to leave the country illegally with the assistance of human traffickers, according to Mr Sheleme.