The Brutality Of Ethiopian Migrant Workers In Saudi Arabia Is Not New By Samuel Getachew

November 13th, 2013 Print Print Email Email

As Saudi Arabia curbs its vital but “illegal” migrant population violently this week to appease high unemployment, I cannot help but reflect on my moment with such destitute citizens a few years ago. As the Kingdom announces deaths of its migrant population as a result of a stubborn and unnecessary police brutality, I cannot help but think of the memories and voices of the destitute I heard as a transit passenger in Bahrain on my way to Addis Ababa from Canada.

I was disillusioned by the experience and saddened by what goes on in the Middle East by way of cheap labor from mostly African and Asian countries. While in transit, I came across countless Ethiopian maids and laborers in distress. I witnessed many sobbing and dozens sharing their nightmares to anyone who will listen. I could not help but listen to their tales.

Around the entrance of the airport, I was also told that there were countless Ethiopians begging for the most basic necessities such as food while dreaming of flying back to Ethiopia after escaping from their workplace with nothing but a miserable working experience in the Middle-East. Like almost all migrant workers everywhere including in North America, these people preform jobs that their own citizens would not dare touch. The ones I met left Ethiopia looking for a new opportunity but most experienced violence, trauma and dejection with absolutely no basic human rights.

Among the hundreds who flew back to Ethiopia with us from Bahrain, the lucky few, there literally was no one who told of a fulfilling experience working as a maid. There were hundreds of young girls sent to find work in all parts of the Arab world, including Lebanon, Bahrain and Oman and especially Saudi Arabia. They all spoke of a mutual experience that was dark, brutal and abusive.

One such person was a young 16-year-old named Tigist who sat next to me for four hours on a flight back to her hometown of Adama. With the help of her employment agent, she faked her age in order to find employment in Lebanon. She was determined as she paid 10,000 Ethiopian Birr (about $550) for an agency to help her find an employment placement in Beirut for a two-year assignment. This was a hefty sum for someone from a working class background.

She reflected with me how her day began at 5 AM when she was always awoken by the man of the house and was pressured to perform sexual favors. Beatings would follow when and if she refused the advances. The more she refused, the harder the beating became. Around 6 am until 1 am, seven days a week, her duty entailed cleaning the seven-room mansion, cook, iron countless clothes for the large extended family and, oftentimes, she would be asked to do cleaning for families outside the owner’s mansion.

As the long days became weeks and then months, the work pressure became much to bear for such a young girl with a large dream of helping her struggling family back home. Beyond taking care of her family, she also had the extra burden of repaying the loan she took in order to pay the employment placement agency that delivered her into her new nightmare.

As months passed, the unending sexual advances and the pressure of the job it took its toll; she contemplated suicide as the only escape from her nightmarish life. After a two-month period that felt like a lifetime, she faked an illness so that she could be sent back home. Even though she worked for two long months, she was paid barely enough to buy her one-way ticket back to Ethiopia with a debt that is almost like a life sentence for such a young girl from a disadvantaged background.

Feeling both scared for what lies ahead and happy to return to a friendly territory, I ask her what would be her future. She quickly told me that she will soon embark on a long walk to Sudan and look for opportunities to go to western countries such as the United States or Canada.

The story of Tigist is no different than the experiences of thousands of Ethiopian maids in the Middle East. As horrific as Tigist’s story is, she is among the lucky as she returns back home with her life still intact and her determination stronger than ever. A couple of years ago, in the neighboring Emirates, a 26-year-old hung herself, leaving a hand-written note asking her mother for her prayer. Another one was burned alive with boiling water. This week, in Saudi Arabia, we are witnessing them dying before our own eyes.

According to the respected Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, “the abuse in the Middle East goes beyond just physical. We know that often girls have to perform sexual favors. But unfortunately for us, to talk about sex and sexuality in Ethiopia is taboo and to get the hard facts from girls is very difficult.”

In the flight to Ethiopia, I witnessed girls who were physically and emotionally paralyzed. Many shared with me the story of many of their colleagues who became victims of suspicious deaths where their death seemed suspicious yet the authorities always labeled it suicide without adequate investigations. However, all of them fail to recall anyone being held responsible for the countless of deaths of migrants in the Middle-East.

As Tigist drifts away at the Bole International airport, I cannot help but wonder where she would be in the near future. Would she succeed in reaching her dream destination or will she give up along the way to entertain other options. I might never hear from her again, but her story is not unique, Tigist can be any one of countless Ethiopians who go to the Middle East only to be caught in a paradigm of nightmares and pain.

In a perfect world, there would have been a safety-net to protect her well-being and that of the world’s vulnerable youngest citizens. They are living a destiny while risking their own existence without any human rights protection. The dreams of Ethiopians as well as the rest of all migrant workers should never be relegated to the whims of those that seek to exploit innocent young girls and turn these hopeful immigrants into indentured servants.

As Saudi Arabia becomes the latest member of the U.N. Human Rights Council seat this week, I hope the UN and its members would demand a higher standard and swift action for basic human rights and dignity for migrant workers from their colleague country. It’s not just Saudi Arabia’s reputation that is at stake here but the United Nations credibility to be an advocate for good, not evil, in the world.

As the late Emperor Haile Selassie once remarked, “Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” Indeed.

The UN should speak up. Canada should speak out. We should all speak up and at the very least join an international protest planned for this Friday, November 15th at Toronto’s City Hall starting at 6 PM.

  1. calahas
    | #1

    I sympathize with the abused people from Ethiopia and other countries and especially the young women who had to endure horrible work conditions and sexual abuse among many other evil behaviors.

    Saudi Arabia becoming a member of UN Human Rights Council is a contradictory action and constrasts with their own lack of enforcement or even recognition of basic human rights of people. They should have no place on that council.

    What is needed is a mass movement inside Ethiopia and other abused countries at the hands of these middle eastern societies against these evils. What is needed is a change in their human behaviors, attitudes and actually Islamic law itself.

  2. Mohammed-Seid
    | #2

    Let´s stand up together and fight for our freedom as ethiopians. It is time to know the ethiopian government that it does not have any support of the people with out respecting and protecting its ouwn citizens. It´s lier and uneducated and merchant diplomats in Saudi must go. We ask all together for justice and condemn stricktly what is happening now in Saudi Arabia against ethiopians. We are in 21 century you cruel Saudis!!!! You can not have a slave any more!!!

  3. Birtu/can
    | #3

    Could the terror campaign by the Saudi’s against Ethiopian citizens ignite the spark that we have all been waiting for? Can it be a ‘ teaching moment’ where there is more to Ethiopiawinet than meets the eye? Looking at your computer screen can you tell which ethnic group the dead, injured and detained Ethiopians belong to? Were the Saudi’s aiming at any ethnic group to shoot and kill such as Amhara, Oromo, Tigre or Wolayeta? What message does this simple fact convey to the Jawar Mohammed’s of Ethiopia? Did the Saudi’s spare Ethiopian Muslims because of their religious affiliation or those Ethiopians who speak their language? Doesn’t that tell you we are all the same in the eyes of our enemies? Shouldn’t we all stand together and defend our country as best we can instead of dwelling in past history and become easy prey to historical enemies such as Arabs. How do we go about assisting our citizens in Saudi Arabia while they are still held hostage and at the mercy of Saudi’s? Won’t the situation be the same if/when they are allowed to go back to Ethiopia? What’s to stop the Saudi government and corrupt woyane from robbing them(us) again? Is there an option available where they can be send to countries willing to accept them as refugees instead of repatriation to the huge prison camp in the world aka Ethiopia? Or can they be recruited by opposition forces such as Ginbot7 to fight woyane who put them in dire situation in the first place? What’s the opposition take on recent developments? How about using the tremendous anger reverberating amongst Ethiopians around the world into a golden opportunity where they can draw support and at the same time put pressure against woyane? Are they going to let their egos get in the way and allow woyane to have a breathing room as usual or are they going to put their differences aside and work together to overthrow woyane? When will the opposition forces in ETHIOPIA come up with a joint communique at least in issues of this magnitude? Why is it necessary for Semayawi party to hold protest one day and Andinet/Medreck another? Don’t they know this is not a popularity contest? Don’t they know five fingers make a fist? Is it possible our dead Ethiopian heroes–the likes of Tewodros, Menelik, Yohannes, Zerai Deres, Abune Petros, Abraha&Moges…etc. turning in their graves because our generation failed to defend the integrity of Ethiopia? that we have become the laughing stock of the world even the fucken Arabs? Do you think the response from Haile Selassie’s and Mengistu’s regimes of Saudi’s aggression against Ethiopians would have been lame as woyane’s? Where do we go from here? Questions, Questions and more Questions? My challenge to the reader is to pick a question and feel free to answer. May God have mercy on us!!!


  4. truth
    | #4

    Where is the so called human rights watch or that of amnisty international?????
    Where is their big mouth this time?

  5. Bandar
    | #5

    Salam Alikum brother mohammed

    I’m a saudi and I have numbers of ethiopian friends. All of them are criticising what come out from the ur people. If you are in Saudi u would definitely change ur view.
    I won’t say anything to defend our position but I would recommend to you as a Muslim brother to do more research. In the last 2 years we have lost so many children whom were killed by ethiopian.

  6. kentu
    | #6

    the soudi are really criminals we as Ethiopian we have to ditroy all soudi propertim thennnger goes to hy in Ethiopia if not we are not humanbing we have to cloth the embassy for good when I see the vedio I can not control my emotion if weyane government he didn’t take any action against soudi our anorger goes to him then it is the last time in power for good

  7. Anonymous
    | #7

    If it weren’t for the remorseless, barbarous, inhumane, undisciplined and shameless criminal Woyanes that are looting Ethiopia and take pride in making the lives of Ethiopians a living hell, Ethiopians wouldn’t risk their lives, be humiliated and degraded to find peace somewhere else. The so called “Ethiopian Embassies” around the world only looks out for members of TPLF.

  8. Anonymous
    | #8

    do not ever believe what you hear or see it is all a lies specialy does organization called human right they are not for the poor

  9. Anonymous
    | #9

    Anonymous #8,
    What a disgrace! You are indeed a good example of how typical godless, heartless, shameless, remorseless and hateful criminal Woyanes behave and think!

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