Human traffickers and smugglers in Ethiopia have taken advantage of the upcoming World Cup, duping victims into believing that South Africa has created huge employment opportunities, says a government report, Illegal Migration: Causes, Consequences and Solutions to human trafficking and smuggling in Ethiopia.
Some 20,000 to 25,000 Ethiopians are trafficked to various countries annually, the January report notes. Together with smuggling from Somalia, the business is worth up to US$40 million a year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Traffickers operate in organized groups of eight to 25 in big towns.
“Human traffickers use various tricks, including the deception that South Africa has created employment opportunities,” Zenebu Tadesse, State Minister for Labour and Social Affairs, said.
Speaking at a national conference on human trafficking and smuggling, she said the government would implement measures to tackle the problem, including repatriating thousands of Ethiopians who had been trafficked out of their country and protecting the rights of those living in various countries.
So far, she added, 2,000 Ethiopians had been repatriated from Tanzania, Yemen, Libya and other Gulf countries, with the support of the IOM, the UN Refugee Agency and other stakeholders.
Some traffickers and smugglers have also been arraigned in court. “Ethiopian police have recently found some eight human traffickers and smugglers and sentenced them to five to 12 years,” said Moni Mengesha, head of the human trafficking and illegal drugs department at the Ethiopian federal police.
Alemu (not his real name), a 27-year-old businessman, left for South Africa in 2009 but ended up in a migrants’ camp in Malawi.
“I went to one of the secret evening presentations given by brokers in Hosaina town [400km south of the capital, Addis Ababa],” he said. “I decided that night to sell everything, close my small shop and travel to South Africa.”
They travelled in a group of eight. “The broker told us the journey from Ethiopia to South Africa would be very easy,” he added. “[But] one died from hunger as we travelled four days without food, another was shot dead [allegedly] by police around the border between Kenya and Tanzania.”
The group was caught around Songwe River by Malawi police in August 2009 and taken to Dazleka refugee camp in Dowa, some 25km north of Malawi’s capital Lilongwe.
|A boat in Bosasso Port, North Eastern Somalia. Boats like these carry as many as 100 migrants when they leave for Yemen (file photo)|
The camp is one of the biggest for refugees from Ethiopia, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. There were about 400 Ethiopians when IRIN visited in September 2009.
“It took me almost a year to reach Malawi,” Alemu told IRIN at Songwe. “The broker in Addis told us we would easily reach South Africa, [but] we were jailed in Tanzania for three months. Each of us had paid them US$1,200. We were duped.
“I cannot reach South Africa now. I have nothing… nothing! I want to go back home. We are treated as terrorists as we steal maize and sugar cane from Malawian farmers.”
“We are worried about Ethiopians and Somali refugees here,” a local resident told IRIN. “They are engaged in theft and robbery. We want the government to stop them from stealing our property and creating havoc here.”
Internal Affairs and Public Security Minister Aaron Sangala told Malawi’s daily newspaper, The Nation, on 6 August 2009: “I have been told they [Ethiopians] go to people’s homes in gangs of 50 terrorizing Malawians. These, to us, are economic refugees who are using Malawi as a transit centre. We cannot tolerate that abuse of our hospitality.”
“Bringing them back cannot be the only solution,” Temesgen Zewde, an opposition parliamentarian in Ethiopia, said.
Another opposition leader, Wondimu Idsa, told parliament: “It is also for political reasons that many people, including MPs, journalists and doctors, are leaving Ethiopia.” The government denied the claims.
Teshome Tadese, special adviser to the president of Southern region, from which many immigrants hail, said: “There is no political problem at all in our region. Our region is very stable; it’s totally in search of better jobs and employment that these citizens are leaving the country.”
That view was echoed by the IOM head of mission in Ethiopia, Josiah Ogina. He urged Ethiopia to ratify and apply UN protocols to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children.
“We conducted research on youth who live in the Amhara region and are potential migrants to the Middle East and South Africa,” he told IRIN. “They told us that their main problem is unemployment not politics.”