Modern Slavery and Violence against Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia By Zekarias Bekele, Ohio

By Zekarias Bekele, Cleveland, Ohio (November 30/2013)

Almost daily a steady stream of young girls queue at the check in of Addis Ababa international airport – destined for the Middle East.

Smartly dressed, wearing makeup they laugh and joke with each other. All long for a new life abroad with promises of high wages and a good job. Yet for most that dream becomes a nightmare as they are forced into prostitution or a slave-like existence as housemaids working 20 hours a day without pay.1

As someone puts it “these are the mothers of the future generation of Ethiopia” who have been trafficked for enslavement to the gulf countries. They laugh and smile not knowing they are on their way to the slaughter house.  Before they know it, they will fall in the crack of gross human right abuse, rape, torture, murder and other aspects of modern slavery.  They are being taken to enslavement under the cover of better opportunity. Their dream is to help themselves and their loved ones. But soon they will find themselves under the bondage of their slave masters. They would suffer in the territory of their masters no escape zone.

An average slave in the American South in 1850 cost the equivalent of $40,000 in today’s money; today a slave costs an average of $90. In 1850 it was difficult to capture a slave and then transport them to the US. Today, millions of economically and socially vulnerable people around the world are potential slaves. This supply makes slaves today cheaper than they have ever been. Since they are so cheap, slaves are today are not considered a major investment worth maintaining. If slaves get sick, are injured, outlive their usefulness, or become troublesome to the slaveholder, they are dumped or killed. For most slave holders, actually legally ‘owning’ the slave is an inconvenience since they already exert total control over the individual’s labor and profits. Who needs a legal document that could at some point be used against the slave holder? Today the slave holder cares more about these high profits than whether the holder and slave are of different ethnic backgrounds; in New Slavery, profit trumps skin color. Finally, new slavery is directly connected to the global economy, and into our lives.2 

Slavery like many other things evolved through out time and changed from traditional form to modern slavery. The tools of recruitment, the means of transportation and the exploitation techniques are modernized catching up with the technology.

Slavery is criminalized and supposed to be abolished in many countries. Hence it still exists and only forced to go underground. Slavery is still the most demanded economic driver in many countries. Governments particularly in the Middle East and western companies invested in those countries are the most beneficiaries of modern slavery.

According to Global Slavery index 2013 there are 29.8 million slaves. The Slavery Index defines slavery “Slavery is the possession and control of a person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of his or her individual liberty, with the intent of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal. Usually this exercise will be achieved through means such as violence or threats of violence, deception and/or coercion. “.

A definition of slavery first appeared in an international agreement in the League of Nations Slavery Convention of 25 September 1926. It defined slavery as “the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised” (art. 1(1)). It further defined the slave trade as “all acts involved in the capture, acquisition or disposal of a person with intent to reduce him to slavery; all acts involved in the acquisition of a slave with a view to selling or exchanging him; all acts of disposal by sale or exchange of a slave acquired with a view to being sold or exchanged, and, in general, every act of trade or transport in slaves” (art. 1(2)). The Convention also distinguished forced labour, stipulating that “forced labour may only be exacted for public purposes” and requiring States parties “to prevent compulsory or forced labour from developing into conditions analogous to slavery” (art. 5).

“In the 20th century, slavery was generally criminalized and forced underground. This had direct consequences for the construction of our understanding of it. Its hidden nature, for example, concealed the dramatic changes that took place in its economic character after 1950. In parallel with the population explosion of the same period, slaves became more numerous and less costly. The modernization process has pushed significant numbers of people in the developing world into social, economic, and political vulnerability. In that context, when governmental corruption allows the criminal to use violence with impunity, slaves can be harvested. The high levels of vulnerability produced a glut of potential slaves, and obeying the rule of supply and demand, the price of slaves fell precipitously. Slaves are now less expensive than at any point in recorded history. This cheapness is a boon to criminals, and has also altered the way that slaves are treated and used. These changes mean that while slavery remains a criminal activity, both the law and researchers are forced to confront new manifestations of slavery.”2a

According to Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS), Ethiopians and Somalis continue to arrive in Yemen; their numbers have dropped from over 107,000 in 2012 to 58,000 by the end of September this year.3 From Ethiopia alone 80,465 in 2012 and 43, 712 in 2013. Between 1 January and 30 November 2012, a total of 99, 620 migrants arrived in Yemen, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). By comparison, 103,154 people arrived in 2011, 53,382 in 2010, and 77,802 in 2009. Of the 2012 arrivals, 78 percent were Ethiopian and just fewer than 22 percent were Somali.4 These figures only represent the ones who crossed the border illegally and made it to Yemen.

The human traffickers and the brokers are widely spread in Ethiopia and recruit mostly women in the blink of an eye. They promised and tell fictitious story to anyone who listen to them.

There are large numbers of people who leave Ethiopia legally through Bole International Airport every single day.  The number of Ethiopians who crossed the border illegally to Somalia and Djibouti for economic and political reasons is difficult to track. Some die in the desert, some killed by the traffickers, some left on purpose in the desert by the traffickers and others make it to Somalia or Djibouti.  Again some die in the red sea and the remaining make it Yemen. They face enormous trouble in Yemen and very few make to Saudi Arabia where they will be enslaved for life under the law of the land.

THE HORROR

Those who crossed the border are mostly uneducated with little or no information.

“A growing number of Ethiopians opt to undergo a perilous journey through the Gulf of Aden, hoping to get to the Middle East via Yemen,” Demissew Bizuwerk, a communication officer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Ethiopia, told IRIN.

“A significant proportion of these migrants travel with little or no information about what they would be encountering, and they are, in one way or the other, misled, mistreated and often abused,” he said.5

“Most Ethiopians enter Yemen illegally as irregular maritime migrants, on boats from Djibouti and Puntland, Somalia,” said an October report by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS) titled ‘Desperate Choices: conditions, risks and protection failures affecting Ethiopian migrants in Yemen’.

A 22-year-old male farmer from northern Ethiopia recounted the elaborate, sadistic and ultimately effective method used by one broker to extract money from migrants.

“[The broker] has two holes dug in the ground; one for male and one for female travelers. He would ask for money gently at first. Those who refuse are put in holes and are threatened with fire. His men put firewood on either side of the hole and put the people in the middle; [they] then raise a torch and go around making gestures of setting the fire. People generally pay at this point.”

But perhaps most dangerous of all is the last leg of the journey, when migrants are often dumped in the desert outside Burao and left to find their own way to Bossaso.

“They abandoned us in the desert,” a 20-year-old female student from northern Ethiopia recounted. “Somali nomads found us and robbed us. We walked for five days trying to find the paved road. We finally found the town of Qarlu. We paid 50,000 shillings ($3) to a taxi to get to Bossaso. The driver told us to go around the border [between Somaliland and Puntland] and meet up with him on the other side. As soon as we got off, he turned back and went away. We walked another six days to get to Bossaso.”6

THE EXPLOITATION AND THE ABUSE

Trafficking is one form of illegal recruitment. Trafficking refers to “the  recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by  means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receipt of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation” (Article 3 of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, 2000) 7

The poor working condition and unacceptable treatment of the workers (slaves) in the Middle East are viewed by some as compared to treatment of animals. The reality is who treats animal like the enslaved people in the Middle East? torture, rape, racial slur, insult, calling them names notoriously “dogs”, beatings, in many cases beating them near to death, throwing them from buildings and murder. They are forced to work for 20 hours a day with no vacation or any other benefits such as overtime pay. Often times they do not get paid at all. Beyond their agreement or unwillingly, they are forced to perform multiple tasks day and night. In many cases they are lent to neighbors and distant families to work in their houses after they finish the daily task they have in the household they are hired. Often times, the enslaved chose to hang themselves than to live in the horrible condition of slavery. 

THE LAW OF THE LAND ALLOWING SLAVERY- KAFALA SYSTEM

Slavery has been practiced in the Middle East for a very long time and only abolished for the sake of politics. For instance, in Saudi Arabia slavery was abolished in 1962 where as the country still adopt and practice the KAFALA system. The KAFALA system is nothing but “modern slavery” that takes all the right away from the enslaved or the so called “employee” and gives it to the brutal slave masters.

Under the Kafala system a migrant worker’s immigration status is legally bound to an individual employer or sponsor (kafeel) for their contract period. The migrant worker cannot enter the country, transfer employment nor leave the country for any reason without first obtaining explicit written permission from the kafeel (sponsor). The worker must be sponsored by a kafeel in order to enter the destination country and remains tied to this kafeel throughout their stay. The kafeel must report to the immigration authorities if the migrant worker leaves their employment and must ensure the worker leaves the country after the contract ends, including paying for the flight home. Often the kafeel exerts further control over the migrant worker by confiscating their passport and travel documents, despite legislation in some destination countries that declares this practice illegal.

This situates the migrant worker as completely dependent upon their kafeel for their livelihood and residency.

The power that the Kafala system delegates to the sponsor over the migrant worker has been likened to a contemporary form of slavery. The kafeel meets their labour needs in the context of immense control and unchecked leverage over workers creating an environment ripe for human rights violations and erosion of labour standards. Migrants Forum Asia, Policy brief No. 2

Modern slavery in Saudi Arabia is largely practiced and empowered by the tradition, the religion, and by the economic demand.

“Ali Al-Ahmed of the dissident Saudi Information Agency reports today that a prominent Saudi religious authority recently called for slavery to be re-legalized in the kingdom. Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan, the author of a religious textbook (At-Tawhid, “Monotheism”) widely used to teach Saudi high school students as well as their counterparts abroad studying in Saudi schools (including those in the West), announced in a recent lecture that “Slavery is a part of Islam. Slavery is part of jihad, and jihad will remain as long there is Islam.” He argued against the idea that slavery had ever been abolished, insulting those who espouse this view as “ignorant, not scholars. They are merely writers. Whoever says such things is an infidel.”

Al-Fawzan is no maverick. He is: A member of the Senior Council of Clerics, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body; A member of the Council of Religious Edicts and Research; Imam of the Prince Mitaeb Mosque in Riyadh; and Professor at Imam Mohamed Bin Saud Islamic University, the main Wahhabi center of learning.

That such a viewpoint can be asserted by a card-carrying member of the Saudi religious establishment offers a tragic commentary on the state of Islamic discourse today.” (November 7, 2003). 8

RECENT CRACKDOWN ON ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS

Saudi Arabia is facing political instability and economic problems in recent time than ever. A few months ago, the people of Saudi Arabia protested demanding fare treatment and dialog. The response from Riyadh was to shot and kill a young man on September 5th or 6th and not to hear to the voice of its own people.

Aiming to divert the attention of its own people the Saudi government begun the crackdown on the so called “illegal immigrants” some of them had been in the country for decades. According to the KAFALA system, it is not easy to identify between legal and illegal immigrants since all the power is given to the Kafeel (sponsor) and the government had no interference.

The right given to the slave masters which was originally taken away from the immigrants “slaves” was given to any Saudi citizens. The police, the so-called militia, the military and groups of people began to raid the houses and the places where the Ethiopian immigrants resided and begun to rape girls and wives in groups. The men, husbands and fathers could not stand only to witness the horrific scene, rather they tried to protect the girls and wives as much as they could.  In response the group, the militia, the police and military became angry and robbed many, raped, tortured, beaten, and murdered.

Some witnesses tell the VOA Amharic program and deutsche welle radio Amharic program that they saw a woman die from raped by multiple people.

There are three death reported where as eye witnesses to VOA  Amharic and deutsche welle radio Amharic program told the number death is way too many. The pictures9a and video footages9 emerged from the Saudi prisons and temporary shelters/prisons are evidences of gross human right abuse and brutal act of violence. Based on previous data collected from Saudi Arabia including the one collected by Global Slavery Index 2013 is fake and distorted. The Saudis are notorious in reporting fake data pretty much for everything, if they think it has negative consequences. So there is no way to know the exact number of dead except witnessed by some who survived the horrible raid, rape, beating, torture and murder.

The act of violence particularly on Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia caused anger among the Ethiopian Diaspora and people in Ethiopia. There have been lots of protest held in front of Saudi Embassy and multitudes of Ethiopians attended and denounced the act of human right abuse by the Saudis against Ethiopian immigrants. The STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST ETHIOPIAN IMMIGRANTS IN SAUDI ARABIA slogan became popular among Ethiopians. Many on social medial site such as Facebook and Twitter changed their profile picture to the popular picture with this slogan. They try to help in every possible way they can including signing petition addressed to Greg Wangerin, UNHCR- Executive Director, Charles DeSantis, UNHCR- Board of Directors chair, Amnesty International USA, Amnesty, The Ohio State House, The Ohio State Senate, Governor John Kasich, The United States House of Representatives, The United States Senate, and President Barack Obama. The petition has already attracted about 24,000 signatures and viewed by over 163, 000 in less than 3 weeks.

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/stop-violence-against-5

Ethiopians are united and dedicated to:

1) The world has to hear their voices loud and clear regarding the gross human right abuse and evil act of rape, beating, tortured and murdered on the Ethiopian immigrants in Saudi Arabia

2) Help the their fellow immigrants go back home or where ever the country of destination may be

3) Help Ethiopian immigrants resettle once they arrive home

4) Find justice for the victims of rape, beating, torture and murder, and for their families

5) They want to make sure such horrible, gross act of violence and human right abuse will never happen to any humankind anywhere

According to the Ethiopian government, over 55,000 Ethiopian immigrants are returned home and expected number of returnees is changing every day. The original estimation of the Ethiopian government was 5000 and then the number grew to 25,000 and now it is expected to be up to 80,000. As the shelter was opened and the word spread many are fleeing from their slave masters to the shelters and then to go back home where at least they have family and friends who stand for their liberty.

CONCLUSION

The world needs to collaborate to abolish slavery once and for all. The people of the world need to unite at the grassroots level and force their community, governments and companies benefited from slavery to STOP the inhuman treatment of others.

Slavery flourishes when people cannot meet their basic needs, and lack economic opportunity, education, healthcare and honest government.  A holistic approach is required to eradicate slavery forever. We need to free slaves around the world by working with grassroots organizations where slavery flourishes. We need to record and share their stories so people in power can see slavery and be inspired to work for freedom. We need to enlist businesses to clean slavery out of their product chains and empower consumers to stop buying into slavery. We need to work with governments to produce effective anti-slavery laws then hold them to their commitments. We need to research what works and what doesn’t so that we use resources strategically and effectively to end slavery forever10.

The world particularly people from the third word need to stand together to STOP slavery, to stop the KAFALA system in Saudi Arabia and in the region. Countries and governments need to stand to protect their people from modern slavery. Governments need to stand with their people and other supporters to find justice for the victims’ slavery who at the end are their fellow citizens. People of the world at the grassroots level need to stand hand in hand, form organizations to impose pressures on governments to obey and practice anti-slavery laws and agreements.

References:
1: ETHIOPIA: Focus on trafficking in women http://www.irinnews.org/report/35124/ethiopia-focus-on-trafficking-in-women
2: Slavery today: http://www.freetheslaves.net/page.aspx?pid=301

2a: Kevin Bales, International Labor Standards: Quality of Information and Measures of Progress in Combating Forced Labor, 24 COMP. LAB. L. & POL’Y J. 321, 322 (2003).

3: Horn migrants risk new routes to reach Europe http://www.irinnews.org/report/99095/horn-migrants-risk-new-routes-to-reach-europe

4: DJIBOUTI-ETHIOPIA: Irregular migration continues unabated http://www.irinnews.org/report/97097/djibouti-ethiopia-irregular-migration-continues-unabated
 

5: DJIBOUTI-ETHIOPIA: Irregular migration continues unabated http://www.irinnews.org/report/97097/djibouti-ethiopia-irregular-migration-continues-unabated

6: ETHIOPIA-SOMALIA-YEMEN: People traffic set to escalate http://www.irinnews.org/report/74075/ethiopia-somalia-yemen-people-traffic-set-to-escalate

7: Preventing Discrimination, Exploitation and Abuse of Women Migrant Workers An Information Guide http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@ed_emp/documents/instructionalmaterial/wcms_116363.pdf

8: Islamist Calls for Slavery’s Legalization(dreams of buying kafir slave girls) http://beforeitsnews.com/opinion-conservative/2013/11/islamist-calls-for-slaverys-legalizationdreams-of-buying-kafir-slave-girls-2747768.html

9: Atrocities against Ethiopian immigrant in Ryad Saudi Arabia. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nygnM2IDrsI&oref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DnygnM2IDrsI&has_verified=1

9a: No Comment! http://supportethiopiansinsaudi.org/2013/11/13/different-images/

10: Our approach http://www.freetheslaves.net/page.aspx?pid=285

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