ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopia has begun repatriating its citizens from Saudi Arabia where more than 100,000 of its nationals are currently detained in harsh conditions for illegal entry.
Authorities say more than 930 nationals, who were in Saudi Arabian detention centers and prisons, have been repatriated until Wednesday afternoon.
The first flight arrived at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport around 10a.m. in the morning carrying 498 people.
The returnees are 341 women and 157 children.
Additional 438 Ethiopians have also been repatriated in the another flight that arrived on Wednesday afternoon.
On both occasions, senior government officials including Women and Social Affairs Minister, Ergoge Tesfaye, welcomed the returnees at the Airport.
– Many Awaits –
Despite a recent drop in illegal migration, reports say many from the East Africa region in general and Ethiopia in particular risk their lives making the dangerous journey via Yemen hoping to find better jobs in the Gulf nation.
Most, however, end up either stranded in Yemeni or Saudi Arabia’s detention centers due to illegal entry.
Official estimates put the number of Ethiopians residing in Saudi Arabia to be 750,000. About 450,000 of them are suspected of living there without proper legal documents.
Last year, nearly 80, 000 Ethiopians returned, more than double the number of returns recorded
in 2020 (36,632), says a UN migration agency, the International Migration Organisation (IOM.
“The large returns are the product of an initiative of the Government of Saudi Arabia which aimed at reducing unemployment by tightening its immigration policy,” says its 2022 report.
Initially, the agency said irregular migrants were afforded a 90-day amnesty period during which they were encouraged to leave the country without facing penalties.
Those unable to do so, including thousands of Ethiopian migrants, are languishing in Saudi Arabian prisons.
The government of Ethiopia has recently been in discussions with Saudi Officials on ways to ease the harsher conditions its citizens are living under, and repatriating those in detention.
At least 102, 000 Ethiopian are languishing in Saudi Arabia’s detention centers and prisons, and many of them have registered to be repatriated.
Nearly a 1000 of them have been repatriated. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs preparations have been finalized to bring back all.
The repatriation operation initiated today is bring led by a committee, comprising 16 government institutions.
Apart from airlifting, the operation involves reinstating and rehabilitating the returnees in a sustainable manner, said the Foreign ministry.
Previously, the committee said it would take up to 11 months to bring them back home. Today, State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Birtukan Ayano said the repatriation could take only six-month.