As tens of thousands of undocumented young Ethiopians continued to migrate, facing death and disappearance on perilous journeys, well-established documented immigrants have become an economically and politically established powerful class.
According to a study, an expert and official documents, documented immigrants in North America, Europe, and the Middle East have grown in number by legally adding their families and spouses to the community over the past half a century.
One of the most determined would-be migrants is Matewos Ayele, 25, a shoe shiner in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and an internal migrant who migrated to the capital from the densely populated southern Ethiopia from where unskilled workers migrate to South Africa.
He is not at all aware of International Migrants Day that has been globally marked on Dec. 18 since 2000.
But Ayele is well informed about the route, means, rewards, and consequences of his highly intended second migration to South Africa.
Idolized South Africa
“There is no way of changing my life and improving the livelihood of my poor family, who expects a lot from me,” he said.
“I am determined to follow in the footsteps of a great many young people who migrated to South Africa from our region and changed their fortunes.”
Ayele noted that he is aware that it is punishable by law to leave Ethiopia illegally and also enter South Africa.
“We will take our chances. There are ways available.”
For years, undocumented Ethiopian migrants had been traveling to Saudi Arabia and Gulf nations via Yemen, Djibouti, and Somalia.
Mesfin Girma, 38, is one of many who have first crossed to Djibouti and then traveled to war-torn Yemen via boats and managed to reach Saudi Arabia.
“Some of our friends lost their lives in the deserts of Yemen. Almost all of us were badly beaten and robbed of our belongings and money by people who led us to Saudi Arabia,” he recalled.
Girma spent five years as an undocumented worker in the kingdom and was deported two years ago.
“Upon returning home, the Ethiopian government provided us with a cement block making machine, and we formed a small-scale company,” he said, adding that more than 70% of those who returned home went back to Saudi Arabia or Gulf nations through the dangerous route.
“I know that some young people still travel to Saudi Arabia and Gulf nations through the same route,” he noted, adding that currently, the number of emigrants is decreasing because the amount of money paid to human traffickers has significantly increased.
Major migrant-sending country
Over the last two decades, Ethiopia has become one of the world's major migrant sending countries.
There are three major routes of emigration: eastward to the Gulf States and the Middle East, while southward leads to South Africa, and northward, trans-Saharan migration to Libya and beyond.
According to a survey commissioned by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Central Statistics Agency of Ethiopia (CSA) which was published in August, documented and undocumented migrants have continued to move to diverse destinations.
Over the past five years, an estimated 839,000 Ethiopians have migrated to various countries, the survey noted.
“The highest (numbers of) emigrants are found in the Middle East countries, with Saudi Arabia as a top destination for about 31% of all emigrants. This is followed by South Africa (12%) and the United Arab Emirates (9%),” it said.
The other most sought-after destinations are North America and Europe and war-torn Yemen, which serves as a transit point to Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries. The majority of the migrants to South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Gulf countries were undocumented.
Disappearances and deaths
According to the IOM and CSA survey, Ethiopian migrants have disappeared or died during their perilous journey over land or sea and “even in their country of destination.”
“Since 2014, more than 4,000 fatalities (among Ethiopian migrants) have been recorded annually on migratory routes worldwide,” the survey said.
“The number of deaths recorded so far, however, represents only a minimum estimate because most migrant deaths around the world go unrecorded.”
The finding of the survey estimates that “51,089 Ethiopians are missing migrants, the majority of these being males (84.6%), while females account for 15.4%.”
Families of the missing do not know if their loved ones are dead or alive.
Nearly 70% of Ethiopia’s more than 119 million people is comprised of young people below the age of 30. The national unemployment rate stands at 21.60%, according to official government figures. Every year, more than 2 million educated youth join the labor market.
Seeking a job and a better life were the main factors behind the growing number of undocumented migrants, the survey said.
Azeb Tamru, the communications adviser to the Ministry of Labor and Skills, told Anadolu Agency that the economy, which had shown double-digit growth between 2010 and 2020, has been creating millions of jobs.
“However, there is a big gap between supply and demand,” she noted, adding that by employing job creation strategies, the government was working to create 15 million jobs by 2025 if all goes well.
Ethiopia has no centralized data system registering migrants, but the latest government estimates put the Ethiopian diaspora at over 3 million.
Endale Neguse, a lecturer in political science with the Civil Device University in the capital, told Anadolu Agency that over the last half a century, Ethiopia’s large diaspora community has become a powerful political, economic, and public diplomacy force either supporting or opposing the government in Addis Ababa.
“Political persecution by successive Ethiopian governments that ruled the country for the past half century was the underlying reason that led the significant majority of migrants to flee the country in the 70s and early 90s,” he noted. “They are educated, well to do, and expanding the community by legally taking families and spouses.”
Currently, Negusse noted, in the face of unrelenting US-led Western pressure on the Ethiopian government over the ongoing war between federal forces and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the Ethiopian diaspora, with the exception of Tigrayans and other elements, has been playing a significant role in advancing public and government causes.
“The migrants are engaged in public diplomacy, pressing Western governments to stop interfering in Ethiopia’s internal affairs and supporting the TPLF,” he noted, adding their efforts were yielding results.
And according to the Ethiopian Diaspora Agency, during the 2020/21 fiscal year, Ethiopians abroad sent home a total of $3.6 billion.