Ethiopian Female Labor Migration to the Middle East. An Investigation of the System of Irregular Migration
The submitted thesis sheds light on the phenomenon of female labour migration from Ethiopia to the Middle East. Although migration has been a constant in Ethiopia’s contemporary history, the migration of female labourers to the Middle East for low-skill employment is a new observation. It started in the early 90ies, with the first migrants moving to Lebanon in order to work as domestic carers in local households. Various push and pull factors contribute since then to an ongoing flow of female labourers to Lebanon and other countries of the Middle East. Due to the hazardous situations in which female labour migrants find themselves during the recruitment, the travel, but also upon arrival in the host countries, the phenomenon has gained the attention of human rights organizations in Ethiopia, the Middle East, and around the world. In response to the publication of reports describing the migrants situation and the outcry of the Ethiopian society in response to what is happening to their daughters, mothers, and sisters, the Ethiopian government established a legal framework in order to improve the organization of labour migration and protect the migrants. Since these measures did not improve the situation, but rather led to a deterioration, the government banned the entire labour migration towards the region of the Middle East. This happened by the end of 2013. More than six years later, the situation has merely changed. On paper, the ban is lifted, and a new proclamation is set in place. The proclamation 923/2015, Ethiopia’s Oversea Employment Proclamation, controls the work of Private Employment Agencies (PEAs), defines the role of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and sets pre-conditions for migrants in order to increase the protection and safety of prospective labour migrants. In reality, though, and due to the inherent controversies of the proclamation itself, not one single migrant has been sent abroad through the legal channel. Against the background of consistent push and pull factors, and with a regular channel that does not work, the irregular channel, with higher risk of abuse, remained the only option for labour migrants to find employment abroad. Contrary to the official intentions of the government, the ban did not contribute to an increased protection of labour migrants, but rather to the opposite.
The aim of this study was therefore to analyse both migration systems, the regular and irregular, and find ways to improve the overall experience for Ethiopian women in terms of safety and personal and professional growth during the recruitment, the travel, and the stay abroad.
During two months in Ethiopia, I gathered qualitative data through expert interviews, in-depth interviews with involved actors, and observations in the field. The collected data allowed me to thoroughly describe the migration channels. The comparison of the regular and irregular channel led to the conclusion that the irregular one is much more successful in addressing the needs of the various actors involved. Nevertheless, the intransparency of the procedure coupled with the limited knowledge of prospective migrants, leads to increased levels of abuse of prospective migrants during the recruitment, the travel, and finally the stay in the host country.
As I aimed at identifying ways to enhance the empowerment aspect of the migrant’s experience, I used qualitative coding methods to break down the data and conduct an in-depth analysis. The analysis of the codes revealed the importance of three aspects of the migration systems: social networks, which organize the migration procedure; trust, which connects society; and knowledge, which determines the level of abuse for involved actors. Each of these facets plays a major role in the functioning of the migration procedure. But not only that: The three aspects also mutually reinforce themselves and simultaneously form the basis for each other. Without taking into consideration this interrelation, the conditions for the actors involved cannot be improved. Based on those findings, the study thus presents a number of policy recommendations, which, if enacted, would contribute to the protection of Ethiopian female labor migrants during the entire experience and enhance their opportunities for personal and professional growth.