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Ethiopian Workers Struggle After Repatriation from Saudi Arabia

  • Marthe van der Wolf

More than 160,000 Ethiopians working in Saudi Arabia were expelled last year and sent back home due to new stricter labor regulations in the kingdom. Those forcibly repatriated are doing their best to adjust, but are having difficulty making ends meet.

Nine of the repatriated Ethiopians from Saudi Arabia are running a chicken business on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. The government provided them with poultry training and the premises.

Almost a year later, returned Ethiopians such as Binyam Zerihun, who spent four years in Saudi Arabia as a truck driver, says he is optimistic despite his financial challenges.

“When I came back I didn’t have anything. Now there is a chance for a future,” says Zerihun.

Wenshjet Fantu spent 15 years in Saudi Arabia working as a maid.

“At this stage we don’t really have income from this, but at least we can cover the costs of feeding the chickens,” says Fantu.

Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians are working in the Middle East in manual labor jobs. A domestic worker abroad makes up to $400 a month, earning 10 times more than on a slimilar job in Ethiopia.

So when Saudi Arabia introduced stricter labor laws, tens of thousands of undocumented and illegal immigrants came back to Ethiopia, where they were given $47 pocket money and sent to their home region where they could register for training and small loans.

Konjit Debele, deputy head of the Addis Ababa Micro and Small Development Bureau, says a lot was done for the thousands that needed to be reintegrated:

“So we gave them different trainings - regarding psychological development, and also business fields. For instance, in [the] manufacturing sector, in [the] construction sector, [the] agricultural sector, trade and service sectors,” says Debele.

Fekadu Bekele, 25, spent almost two years in Saudi Arabia. When she came home, she and nine other women returnees set up a café and restaurant with a government loan. But she says it is not enough.

“We don’t have any salary, we just work here for nothing,” says Bekele.

Fekadu is not happy with life since she’s come back. In Saudi Arabia she earned $100 a month as a cook. She says the profit from the café is barely enough to pay back the loan.

“The government has given us jobs. But even though the government has given us work, there is no result from it,” says Bekele.

Fekadu says that if she had the opportunity, she would go back to Saudi Arabia.

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