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FEATURE -'I lost my mind': Ethiopian migrants forced home empty-handed by coronavirus

ADDIS ABABA, June 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When Rita Alemu realised the plane she had boarded in Dubai had taken her back home to Ethiopia, she burst into tears as she knew she would never recover more than a year’s unpaid wages.

The 23-year-old domestic helper had only been paid for two out the 18 months she had worked in the United Arab Emirates when the new coronavirus pandemic suddenly forced her and thousands of other Ethiopian migrants to go home.

“I went to Dubai hoping I could work and change my life, but I spent all this time there and came back empty-handed,” said Rita, whose broker took her to the airport after her employers decided to leave Dubai because of the coronavirus crisis.

“As soon as I arrived at the airport, I lost my mind,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that she could not remember what happened after she landed.

More than 14,000 Ethiopians have either been deported or chosen to return home since the beginning of April, mostly from Sudan, Djibouti and Saudi Arabia, according to the U.N. migration agency (IOM).

Every year, it is estimated that tens of thousands of Ethiopians travel irregularly, mainly to the Gulf, in search of better-paid work. Many end up exploited as maids or on building sites, unable to leave without their employers’ consent.

It is easy for brokers to tempt Ethiopians to migrate because they lack opportunities at home and feel compelled to provide for their families in a poor country where droughts regularly leave millions short of food, migration experts say.

But the trauma they endure - often working for more than 20 hours a day, without enough food or sleep and enduring physical and sexual abuse - can leave psychological scars, according to groups working with returnees. Read more...


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