Ethiopia plans to recruit 500,000 women for domestic work in Saudi Arabia
Hirut was at her home in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa when she got a call from an unknown number asking if she wanted to move to the Middle East for work. It came as a shock for the 27-year-old, who worked as a domestic worker in Kuwait for six years before returning in 2020.
She initially suspected the callers to be human traffickers, but they told her that they were state employees, who had found her name and number from a government database for returnee migrants from the Middle East.
A noteworthy number of Ethiopians have been travelling to Lebanon, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia since the 1980s in search of blue-collar jobs, majorly arranged by human traffickers or local Ethiopian recruitment agencies.
But this time, the entire process including advertising and recruitment is being overseen by the Ethiopian government. There are plans to recruit as many as 500,000 women between the ages of 18-40 for domestic work in Saudi Arabia.
The Kingdom temporarily banned labour migration from Ethiopia in early 2020 in an effort to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The ban was lifted in February this year and authorities in Ethiopia soon launched the recruitment drive.
Notices began appearing on Facebook and billboards across the country in early March, urging women to register. Hirut and other returnees who are familiar with the language and the culture are being actively asked for in addition to new recruits.
Under the programme, women will board flights paid for by the government. Migrant workers in Saudi Arabia can possibly earn around 1,000 riyals ($266) monthly, compared to Ethiopia’s per capita annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $925 in 2021.
The programme is also being touted by federal officials as a life-saving endeavour, highlighting the major risks Ethiopians encounter on difficult journeys along migrant corridors through Yemen and Djibouti.
By eliminating travel through Yemen, the Ethiopian government claims it is eliminating a major portion of the danger. On their way to Saudi Arabia, migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia can die in road accidents in Yemen or be murdered, an activist informed.
21-day orientation sessions are being provided at different locations across the country to prepare recruits for life in Saudi Arabia. But a number of human rights experts have raised concerns over the Kingdom’s poor human rights record.
Moreover, while officials have repeatedly suggested that remittances from Ethiopians working abroad could help the country’s economy, experts believe the programme won’t be that beneficial as only a small fraction of Ethiopians transfer money through official channels.
A major portion of funds end up in the black-market sinkhole, said Ayele Gelan from the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research. He estimates that with proper regulation, total remittance inflows to the country could have been as high as $6.9 billion this year.