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Trafficked and returned: Supporting migrant women survivors in Ethiopia during COVID-19



Trafficked and returned: Supporting migrant women survivors in Ethiopia during COVID-19

When you are an illegal immigrant, you are considered less than dogs

NEW YORK, United States of America, January 14, 2022/APO Group/ —

“Soldiers shot us in the back as we fled through the forest. Some girls were raped and beaten. when they caught us [in a neighbouring country], the police made us sleep next to a bathroom. We had to ask them for food”, shares Alem Kifle* about his migration journey. “When you are an illegal immigrant, you are considered less than a dog.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread through Ethiopia, the country’s already high unemployment rate increased and travel restrictions obstructed safe migration pathways for thousands of Ethiopians. In a desperate attempt to provide for her children, Kifle, like many others, turned to human traffickers who promised her work. But her journey ended with three months in prison in a foreign country before being deported back home.

“When I returned to Ethiopia, I had no money and was depressed. My son lived on the street and my daughter lived with a neighbor. In a situation like this, your own family may turn their backs on you,” he says.

Some 550,000 migrants were expected to return from the Gulf countries to Ethiopia in 2020 due to the pandemic, many of them traumatized by the violence they experienced during migration. Despite increased demand, shelters were unable to accommodate returnees because they did not have enough isolation spaces or personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent coronavirus transmission and lacked qualified staff.

A safe space and a new beginning for victims of irregular migration and migrant women

Kifle was referred to one of these specialized women’s shelters, run by the Good Samaritan Association (GSA) in December 2020. The GSA shelter provides safe accommodation, medical care, psychological counseling and vocational training for women survivors of violence victims of trafficking, deportees and returnees. . After completing vocational training that provides them with business skills as well as leadership and life skills, the women receive small grants to start their own businesses.

“The fact that I was able to access these services gave me hope and courage,” says Kifle. At the GSA shelter he received immediate medical treatment and counselling. She was also trained in food preparation. With the start-up capital she received from GSA, Kifle now runs a small tea and coffee shop in her hometown and raises her two children.

“Our role is to make women believe that they can work and that their lives can change,” says Hirut Yebabe, executive director of GSA. “We provide care services to survivors of violence, showing them love and compassion. It is always a great joy to see survivors grow up and become role models for other women.”

Between August and December 2020, GSA shelters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and the northern city of Gondar supported the rehabilitation of 55 trafficked, deported and returnee women and girls who experienced violence. All of them are now back in their communities, rebuilding their lives and earning a decent income.

Trauma healing through counseling

Migrant women and girls may experience violence at all stages of migration: during the journey or in transit, upon arrival in the country of destination and upon return to their country of origin. While survivors require a variety of services, a 2016 UN Women study found that most survivors rated counseling as the most valuable service they received in shelters.

Beza Hailu* immigrated to Beirut in Lebanon to work as a domestic worker to pay for her mother’s medical expenses in Ethiopia. But her employer physically and mentally abused her and withheld her pay. While Hailu was suffering, her mother died from her illness.

“It broke my heart to pieces. I couldn’t save her. The guilt was heavy…. I got depressed and became addicted. I lost my purpose in life,” shares Hailu. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Lebanon, Hailu was deported to Ethiopia. She was referred to an Agar Ethiopia Benevolent Society women’s shelter in Addis Ababa, where she received intensive counseling.

“When I gave up, my counselor believed in me and inspired me. Frequent counseling sessions silenced the voice in my head that told me I was hopeless. It was like I was given the opportunity to start a new life,” says Hailu.

Hailu’s counselor was one of 34 professional counselors who had completed the UN Women training on gender-based violence counseling in 2020, funded by the governments of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands. The training focuses on specific methods for providing personalized counseling and therapy to survivors of violence, based on the core principles of ‘Do No Harm’ and the empowerment of women, from the Essential Services Package, developed under the Joint Global Program United Nations Essential Services. .

“Looking back, I realize how strong and independent I was to survive what I’ve been through. I am a changed woman and I am very happy,” says Hailu.

In 2020, the Ethiopian Ministry of Women, Children and Youth, in partnership with UN Women and UNFPA, and funded by the governments of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, finalized a national standard operating procedure (SOP) for shelter services it now provides Guiding Principles and Standards for the Provision of Shelter in Ethiopia aligned with the United Nations Essential Services Package. The SOP was launched on November 25, 2021, at the start of the global campaign 16 Days of Activism to End Gender Discrimination.

*Name changed to protect survivor’s identity

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