ADDIS ABABA, 14 Oct
2002 (IRIN) - Almost daily a steady stream of young girls queue at the check in
of Addis Ababa international airport – destined for the Middle East.
Smartly dressed, wearing makeup they laugh and joke with each other. All long for a new life abroad with promises of high wages and a good job. Yet for most that dream becomes a nightmare as they are forced into prostitution or a slave-like existence as housemaids working 20 hours a day without pay.
Illegal trafficking from Ethiopia has become a lucrative business. Traffickers who prey on girls in Ethiopia expect to earn around seven thousand Ethiopian Birr (More than US $800) for
each person they send overseas. Thousands of teenage girls are shipped out of the country each year to the Middle East, with the Lebanon as the most popular destination. The Ethiopian authorities were forced to open a consulate in the Lebanon just to deal with the problem.
“There is a great deal of trafficking going on in Ethiopia,” Rakeb Messele, from the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) anti-trafficking unit, told IRIN.
“Specifically the girls are sent to the Middle East, Lebanon, Dubai and Saudi Arabia. These are the main countries of destination. In Lebanon alone there are about 25,000 Ethiopians working there. In Beirut it is estimated a 1,000 Ethiopian girls are recruited monthly."
“We are talking about thousands of girls a year being trafficked,” Rakeb said. The youngest girl was just 14.
The IOM says it is almost impossible to tell how many girls are shipped overseas. Most become difficult to trace because once they land they have to change their Christian names to Muslim names.
The IOM says girls aged between 18 and 25 are targeted by traffickers at colleges or in poor districts of towns and cities. Often they have not completed their school studies.
The Ethiopian government has tried to combat the problem by introducing laws in 1998 to create private migration firms which could regulate the flow. The law also introduced stiff penalties for recruiters and set up a committee to address the problem.
The Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association office has also played a large part in fighting the problem. Many women who return complain to the Association of physical abuse and working without pay. One girl was locked in a house for three years until she managed to escape.
“Most of the agents are functioning underground and are not registered,” Rakeb said. “This makes it very difficult to account for the human rights abuses or what is exactly going on. This is illegal trafficking.”
The IOM says that the problems usually start because employers fail to register the girls with the authorities in the country. Police often pick up the girls because they stand out as foreigners.
The IOM has launched a new strategy to tackle the huge problem of trafficking. It is now targeting young schoolgirls – through a US government funded programme – to warn of the
potential dangers. Through radio and the media they target the girls at school, particularly girls aged around 16 who face difficulties in the job market.
“This is the group which finds it very hard to gain employment around the country,” Rakeb added. “These are the susceptible ones. They are looking into migration and opportunities outside the country.”
The IOM teaches the girls about legal migration and how to ensure they do not fall into the trap of illegal traffickers. It has also called for strict control of travel documents, exit and entry visas with legal, medical and pre-departure counselling services. The IOM also says it wants diplomatic missions abroad strengthened.