Since the days of Derge’s policy of red terror and the ill-fated armed struggle of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP), there has been an exodus of Ethiopian youth through legal and illegal means. With the issue of migrants not accentuated as a major international problem, having a request for asylum accepted or even being naturalized were relatively simpler in those days. The benefits of living abroad expressed mainly to locals through remittance sent from these migrant relatives have long sold the idea of emigration to Ethiopians.
Ethiopians who live abroad are generally respected and treated in a special way when they return back to their country. The social value attached with a returning Ethiopian living abroad is mostly influenced by the economic strength of the country the person came from. Accordingly, such factors have fueled the interest of some Ethiopians to go abroad.
On another dimension, illegal migration and human trafficking have come to the forefront of international concerns with the changing international political, economic and social system. The harsh economic, political and social realities of the world have pushed the home loving collectivist society of the Southern hemisphere to migrate to the developed North in a rare occasion of history. The long history of the white people of the Northern hemisphere migrating in large numbers to displace local people and claim a state of their own is forgotten nowadays.
The corpse of the poor people of Asia and Africa floating unclaimed in the waters adjoining European land is nowadays a regular fixture of Television transmission. As has been reported extensively both on national and international media, human trafficking claims the lives of hundreds of people in just one incident. Whether it is the crammed boats in the Mediterranean or the journey through the Sahara desert, illegal migrants go through various life threatening conditions to get to their destinations.
Affected by both these national and international realities, Ethiopians make up a section of this trend of illegal migration. Accordingly, they too face the grave dangers associated with human trafficking. The illegal nature of human trafficking means the suffering begins with the journey. Those making the journey constantly have their lives threatened by hunger, thirst, hygiene problems and inhumane acts of traffickers. They also fall victim to problems associated with lack of peace in their countries of transit. Women are mostly susceptible to rape while harvesting organs from illegal migrants is on the rise. Studies also indicate that those stripped off their identity cards on their journeys have a high tendency of joining terrorist groups.
Data show that at least 2,650 Ethiopians from Hadiya zone alone lost their lives as a result of human trafficking since 2013. The data further indicate that thousands more are unaccounted for or have physical damages. Neighboring zones are also thought to have similar conditions regarding human trafficking with the youth largely set on their way to South Africa. To make matters worse, those who made it to South Africa are not immune to the dangers as 1,134 of them died there during the same time.
Illegal migrants have to risk everything when they set out on their journeys. It would seem irrational for a human to pay a large sum of money for human traffickers just to risk going through all these harsh circumstances or even lose their lives. However, Ethiopian migrants reportedly pay from 90-120 thousand birr for traffickers to get to South Africa. On their journeys, migrants are often forced to pay additional money or have their relatives send the money at the price of their lives.
It’s no wonder that human trafficking is the third most lucrative illegal business sector in the world preceded only by drug and arms trafficking.
Despite these grim realities though, thousands of Ethiopians make the illogical decision of migrating illegally using human traffickers every month. So what are the factors that force them make these hasty decisions?
The factors behind these risky decisions are generally categorized as push and pull factors. Push factors are local problems that tempt people to consider the option of illegal migration. These include poverty, social attitude to life abroad, war, false promise of traffickers, family and peer pressure and unfair wealth distribution in a country. The pull factors, on the other hand, refer to perceived favorable conditions abroad that attract potential migrants. These include considerable job opportunity and relative peace.
Experts who have studied the issue closely say: “migration accelerates migration.” The stories of the few who have made it are used as recruitment tools by middlemen. This cycle of migration has led to a huge social, economic and political problem in the country. Some of the major problems include:
Loss of the productive section of the population: from mere physical absence in the country to loss of life, human trafficking causes a huge loss of the productive section of the population. With the youth making an overwhelming part of those involved, the productive section of society is the most vulnerable of the economic groups. Shocking data like the one cited above involving Hadiya youth renders the problem concrete.
Exposure to unnecessary economic bankruptcy: households and the nation as a whole are exposed to preventable economic loss as families sell their houses and other assets to send their sons and daughters on the risky journey to preferred destinations of human trafficking.
Dependency Syndrome: the remittance sent by those living abroad also leaves their relatives here develop a sense of dependency. Instead of sorting their own life paths independently, they tend to wait for the handouts from abroad.
Informal route for remittance: migrants who do not have legal status in their host countries do not usually use banks and other formal routes to transfer money. Instead, they send the money through travellers. That hinders the formal route from reaping the benefits.
Exposure to various diseases: the hunger, thirst, lack of hygiene, rape and organ harvesting associated with human trafficking exposed victims to various diseases.
Emigration aspiring generation: the ‘migration accelerates migration’ cycle draws many reeling into the lucrative business of human trafficking. The long term result is a generation aspiring to live abroad instead of earning a decent living locally and working towards a better nation.
Potential to harm bilateral relations: a large number of illegal immigrants make it hard for the host country to plan and implement social welfare policies. Negative perceptions of a social group by the host population could breed distorted image about a country. These perceptions slowly creep into the diplomatic sphere harming bilateral relations. Measures taken by a host country targeting a certain group could also strain bilateral ties.
The remedial actions taken for long are criticized by experts as presupposing that the legal framework is the only source of remedy. Therefore, they centered on building a legal infrastructure. Although it is vital to have those infrastructures in place, experts recommend adopting a multiple remedy strategy. The recent trends of involving the media, elders and various social institutions are instances of the adoption of this strategy.
The other main point to note is that human trafficking is not a one-time problem to be tackled by a committee. Rather it needs to be mainstreamed into all stake holding sectors. The commitment required to root out the problem demands that such daunting tasks are carried out fully._
BY BEREKET GEBRU