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Ethiopia’s exploitative recruitment scheme for Saudi Arabia

  • Published on
    September 15, 2023
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  • Category:
    Forced Labor
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In a distressing revelation, The Globe and Mail exposes a deeply troubling reality: the Ethiopian government’s Facebook campaign, ostensibly aimed at providing employment opportunities for migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, is enabling a cycle of human trafficking, forced labor, and exploitation. The program, which promised safe and steady jobs, has left countless Ethiopian women vulnerable to abuse and perilous working conditions in the oil-rich kingdom.

“There are no guarantees that migrant workers, particularly in countries with insufficient legal protections and labour laws, would receive payment.” – says Miriam Karmali, our former advocacy manager at Freedom United.

The deceptive promise of opportunity

Under the guise of economic recovery and foreign currency relief, the Ethiopian government initiated a program to export 500,000 Ethiopian women for domestic work in Saudi Arabia. Despite warnings from human rights researchers regarding the perilous conditions faced by migrant workers in the Gulf countries, the government sees this program as a means to alleviate the financial strain caused by years of civil conflict.

To attract potential recruits, the government turned to Facebook. More than 200 Ethiopian state institutions, including ministries and district administrations, have utilized their official pages to promote the Saudi recruitment drive, enticing women with the promise of a brighter future. However, the reality awaiting these workers in Saudi Arabia is far from the rosy picture painted on social media.

“It’s all a lie. They don’t care about what happens after they get you here. If you want to come, you need to understand the risks and put your faith in God, not them.” – says Fikirte, a mother who was recruited from northern Ethiopia.

Exploitation under the kafala system

The Ethiopian government’s Facebook posts conveniently omit crucial information: migrant workers in Saudi Arabia are stripped of the labor law protections they deserve. Instead, their legal residency is tethered to their employer through the discriminatory “kafala” system, effectively rendering them powerless to escape abusive situations. The absence of safeguards has led to cases of extreme exploitation, with workers enduring harrowing conditions.

Fikirte’s ordeal serves as a harrowing example. From enduring hunger and exhaustion to fending off unwanted advances, her experience in Saudi Arabia epitomizes the suffering endured by countless others. The recruitment agency, complicit in this cycle of abuse, confiscates passports and confines workers in locked rooms, leaving them at the mercy of exploitative employers.

Facebook’s complicity and Meta’s response

Facebook’s involvement in disseminating misleading information and facilitating this exploitative campaign raises serious ethical concerns. The platform has been instrumental in amplifying the government’s deceptive narrative, ultimately luring vulnerable individuals into dangerous situations. In response to scrutiny, Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has pledged to review recruitment posts and remove any violating their policies. However, questions persist regarding the platform’s responsibility in preventing such abuses.

As the Ethiopian government continues to view this migration program through an economic lens, it turns a blind eye to the suffering of its citizens. You can join us in demanding safe migration by signing our petition.


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Constance Dryden
Constance Dryden
8 months ago

Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, etc. have the same programs touted by their governments. It is very difficult to counter these :opportunities” when people, especially women, have few choices!

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