ADDIS ABABA – Thousands of irregular and undocumented migrants in Lebanon have lost their livelihoods due to COVID-19 and the economic crisis. Many have begun to return home to Ethiopia.
Sewasew Gereme is among the returnees. She chose to return from Lebanon five months ago, at the onset of the pandemic, when she was dismissed by her employer.
“We lost our jobs, we struggled. Some of our friends fell ill,” she said. “Things in Beirut are currently bad, and it was getting to a point where our lives were at risk.”
Sewasew is among over 15,300 returnees Ethiopia has received since 1 April 2020, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Most of them are from Sudan (4,440), Djibouti (3,700), Saudi Arabia (3,000) and Somalia (2,700). The rest of them came from Lebanon ( 640) and 1,000 from other countries including Kuwait.
Recently, health officials have expressed their worry after the return of Ethiopians in large numbers challenged Ethiopia’s COVID-19 preparation.
“So far, our people-centered response managed to withstand these challenges,” said Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed while responding to parliamentarians questions on Monday.
IOM and other humanitarian organizations have helped to facilitate the returnees’ arrival, directing them to handwashing facilities, and urging physical distancing to reduce the risk of the disease being transmitted.
The migrants have been screened for symptoms of the disease and given Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) by Ethiopia’s Public Health Institute.
The majority are young women who were working in the Middle East, are all now in government-led quarantine centers.
IOM said it is providing travel allowances for migrants to get back to their towns and villages across the country, after leaving quarantine.
‘Many More to Return’
“The quarantine center is the most critical part of the journey for returning migrants amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Milun Jovanovic, the Head of Operations at IOM Ethiopia.
“We are doing our best to provide all the necessary items at quarantine centers together with the government and streamlining efforts by other UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.”
IOM is also distributing essential items PPE, bedding, sanitation products, and tents, contributed by various donors, to quarantine centers.
But, more returning migrants are expected in the country in the coming days and weeks, at a time when COVID-19 infection rates in Ethiopia are still rising, according to IOM.
“As per the UN resolution and the African Union communiqué, one of the ways to get COVID-19 under control is to restrict movement.
The recommendation is to assist citizens where they are instead of moving them,” said Tsion Teklu, State Foreign Minister of Ethiopia.
An estimated 460,000 Ethiopians have migrated to the Gulf between 2008 and 2013. Hundreds of thousands of others have migrated through irregular channels, mainly via Yemen.
Featured Image: Close to 260 Ethiopians have returned home from Kuwait on Tuesday afternoon [Photo MoFA]