Addis Ababa: The government of Ethiopia has repatriated 498 undocumented migrants from Saudi Arabia as part of its renewed operation to bring back citizens from the kingdom.
Dina Mufti, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the government will step up the repatriation of Ethiopian nationals without documents from Saudi Arabia, highlighting that the repatriation is being carried out on a voluntary basis, reports Xinhua news agency.
State Minister of Foreign Affairs Birtukan Ayano told journalists during an event held at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport to welcome the latest batch of Ethiopian returnees that the government is set to repatriate all Ethiopian nationals stranded in Saudi Arabia involving up to three flights a day.
“We are planning to finalize the repatriation of Ethiopian nationals from Saudi Arabia within the coming 7-11 months. There are about 100,000 Ethiopian nationals in refugee (camps) and detention centres. Priority is given to women and children migrants,” Ayano said.
Out of 498 total returnees, 157 of them are children while the rest are women, said Ayano who is also the chair of a committee in charge of overseeing the repatriation and rehabilitation of Ethiopian citizens from Saudi Arabia.
The Minister said the repatriation was kicked off after the Ethiopian delegation conferred with Saudi Arabian officials regarding the protection of the rights of citizens in the Gulf nation and further facilitated the repatriation process.
According to figures from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, more than 750,000 Ethiopians are living in Saudi Arabia, out of whom 450,000 are residing in the Gulf nation without documents.
Estimates suggest that thousands of Ethiopians are trafficked to the Arabian Peninsula via Djibouti and Yemen every year, in hopes of finding jobs in Saudi Arabia.
Desperate Ethiopian migrants, who attempt to cross the dangerous Red Sea route via neighbouring nation Djibouti, often endure deadly incidents along the Red Sea as well as imprisonment and killings in war-torn Yemen.
In recent months, Ethiopia has stepped up efforts to return home its citizens stranded in various foreign countries, mainly Saudi Arabia, as part of the government’s newly unveiled “citizen-centred diplomacy”.
The Ethiopian government is also working to dismantle sophisticated human trafficking networks, and create economic opportunities for nationals with low incomes.