ETHIOPIA: Human Trafficking Hub in the Horn of Africa

Sophia Tesfamariam/americanchronicle.com
July 07, 2009

The other day, I was listening to Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State as she announced the release of the annual Human Trafficking Reports by the US Department of State (DoS). With Eritrean Americans such as myself, with every dubious list that the DoS released, it has become very important to not only know what is contained in them, but also most importantly if Eritrea is mentioned, because as we have learned in the last 10 years, these lists are based hearsay, unsubstantiated facts and ideology. I was driving at the time and did not worry about it too much as Eritrea had never been a country listed on any of the past reports relating to human trafficking since the Department started producing them some 10 years ago. So imagine my outrage when I got to my office and read the news reports that said Eritrea was placed on Tier Three (the most egregious violators list).

Some countries are placed in tiers that do not correspond with the relative weight of their alleged human trafficking records. For example, Ethiopia´s extensive human trafficking activity and weak legislation to combat it, coupled with the minority regimes complicity in the trafficking of Eritreans, should have landed it a Tier 3 ranking from the get go, but because Meles Zenawi was the Bush Administration´s "staunch ally in the war on terror", his regime was not blacklisted and thousands of Ethiopians paid for that appeasement. How is it that Ethiopia, which has been placed on the Department´s watch list for the last 10 years is placed in Tier Two and Eritrea which has never been on any list in the last 10 years, and never mentioned in all its past reports, is suddenly placed in Tier Three? How can that be?

A cruel hoax…or was that the Bush Administration and Jendayi Frazier´s final revenge…well, regardless of what it is, it is needs further scrutiny. For that, let´s go to the Department´s own Reports for the last 9 years. In all the Department of States Human Rights Reports, 2000-2009, when it came to the section on human trafficking, this is what has been repeatedly written about Eritrea:

"…there were no reports that persons were trafficked in, to, or from the country…"

There is absolutely no mention of any issues with human trafficking in Eritrea. Absolutely none. It makes sense since Eritrea is a victim of human trafficking. Its citizens are constantly targeted not just by sleazy traffickers out to make a quick buck, but also by States such as Ethiopia which seek to destabilize the country. Eritrea´s citizens have also been targeted by hostile self serving international groups and organizations, such as UNHCR.

As the facts will show, the many reports on Ethiopia produced by the Department of State in the last 10 years are filled with stories of abductions, trafficking, illegal adoption schemes and more. Allow me to present Ethiopia's human trafficking 10 year history as presented by the Department of State's own Human Rights Reports from 2000-2009.

DoS Human Rights Report released on 23 February 2000:

"…. there were numerous anecdotal accounts of young girls traveling to the Middle East to work as house servants and nannies, some of whom are abused, including sexually. There reportedly is a network of persons based in the tourism and import-export sectors who are involved heavily in soliciting potential clients, recruiting young girls, arranging travel, and fabricating counterfeit work permits, travel documents, and birth certificates… As a result of a change in the Labor Law the Government no longer acts as an employment agency for workers going abroad. Private entities now arrange for overseas work and as a result, the number of women being sent to Middle Eastern countries as domestic or industrial workers increased significantly. Lebanon is the most popular destination. There were credible reports that hundreds of the approximately 15,000 Ethiopian domestic workers in Lebanon were subjected to abusive conditions, including sexual exploitation…"

DoS Human Rights Report released on 23 February 2001:

"…NGO's report that girls as young as age 11 are recruited to work in houses of prostitution where they are kept ignorant of the risks of HIV infection. There have been many press reports of the large-scale employment of children, especially underage girls, as hotel workers, barmaids, and prostitutes in resort towns and truckstops south of Addis Ababa…there were reports that poor rural families sold their young teenage daughters to hotel and bar owners on the main truck routes; however, there were no reports of such activity during the year. Social workers note that young girls are prized because their clients believe that they are free of sexually transmitted diseases. The unwanted babies of these young girls usually are abandoned at hospitals, police stations, welfare clinics, and adoption agencies. There were numerous anecdotal accounts of young girls going to the Middle East to work as house servants and nannies, some of whom were abused, including sexually…There reportedly is a network of persons based in the tourism and import-export sectors who are involved heavily in soliciting potential clients, recruiting young girls, arranging travel, and fabricating counterfeit work permits, travel documents, and birth certificates…"

DoS Human Rights Report released on 4 March 2002:

"… Ethiopia is a country of origin for trafficked women, and there are reports of internal trafficking. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that rural families sold their daughters to hotel and bar owners on the main truck routes; however, the practice is believed to exist…The Government no longer acts as an employment agency for workers going abroad. Private entities now arrange for overseas work and, as a result, the number of women being sent to Middle Eastern countries, particularly Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, as domestic or industrial workers increased significantly. There reportedly is a network of persons based in the tourism and import-export sectors who are involved heavily in soliciting potential clients, recruiting young girls, arranging travel, and fabricating counterfeit work permits, travel documents, and birth certificates. There continued to be credible reports that some domestic workers abroad were subjected to abusive conditions, including sexual exploitation…In addition the employers of the domestics sometimes seize passports, fail to pay salaries, and overwork the domestics, and some domestics were forced to work for their employers' relatives without additional pay. Domestics have been forced to pay a monetary penalty for leaving their employment early. There are reports of confinement and obstruction of contacting family..."

DoS Human Rights Report released on 31 March 2003:

"…there were numerous reports that persons were trafficked to, from, and within the country. Child prostitution was a problem, especially in urban areas…During the year, 80 to 100 persons were charged with trafficking; however, there were no reported prosecutions or investigations during the year, due in part to limited resources…There were unconfirmed reports that children from the southern part of the country were transported into Kenya by child traffickers operating adoption rings, and adopted as other nationalities…NGOs reported that girls as young as age 11 were recruited to work in houses of prostitution where they were kept uninformed of the risks of HIV/AIDS infection and other sexually transmitted diseases. There were many press reports of the large-scale employment of children, especially underage girls, as hotel workers, barmaids, and prostitutes in resort towns and rural truck stops…There was evidence that children were trafficked from rural areas to Addis Ababa, lured by false promises of employment…Private entities arranged for overseas work and, as a result, the number of women sent to Middle Eastern countries, particularly Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, as domestic or industrial workers increased significantly during the year. These Ethiopian women typically were trafficked through Djibouti, Yemen, and Syria…The Chief of the Investigation and Detention Center in Lebanon reported that 20,000 to 25,000 Ethiopian women worked in Beirut, a majority of whom were trafficked. Approximately 50 percent of these women were not able to return legally to their home country…There reportedly was a network of persons based in the tourism and trade sectors who were involved heavily in soliciting potential clients, recruiting young girls, arranging travel, and fabricating counterfeit work permits, travel documents, and birth certificates…"

DoS Human Rights Report released on 25 February 2004:

"… there were numerous reports that persons were trafficked to, from, and within the country. Child prostitution was a problem, particularly in urban areas…Despite the arrests of suspected traffickers during the year, there had been no successful prosecutions of traffickers in persons by year's end…In October, police arrested five men suspected of trying to traffic nine children under the age of 8 from the southern region of Gamo Gofa. The police reportedly returned the nine children to their parents…There were unconfirmed reports that children from the south were transported into Kenya by child traffickers operating adoption rings, and adopted as other nationalities. Unlike in the previous year, the Government did not close down adoption agencies operating in the country that failed to observe proper rules and regulations. The Government granted licenses to three adoption agencies in the country…NGOs reported that girls as young as age 11 were recruited to work in houses of prostitution where they were kept uninformed of the risks of HIV/AIDS infection and other sexually transmitted diseases. In July, a Family Health International Report indicated that customers targeted younger girls because they were believed to be free of sexually transmitted diseases…Among the sex workers, 60 percent were between the ages of 16 and 25. Underage girls worked as hotel workers, barmaids, and prostitutes in resort towns and rural truck stops…An international NGO reported that trafficking was "increasing at an alarming rate." A study commissioned by a foreign government during the year on the problem of internal trafficking of women and children confirmed that the problem is pervasive. The overwhelming majority of respondents confirmed that they were trafficked from rural areas to Addis Ababa and other urban centers, lured by false promises of employment. Of the 459 respondents, 46 percent were illiterate and 49 percent had completed no more than a grade 8 education. Upon arrival at their new destinations, 54 percent worked as domestic servants, but that number dropped to 9 percent as the trafficked women and children took jobs in bars, became sex workers, or begged on the street…There was a network of persons in Addis Ababa based in the tourism and trade sectors who were heavily involved in soliciting potential clients, recruiting young girls, arranging travel, and fabricating counterfeit work permits, travel documents, and birth certificates…"

DoS Human Rights Report released on 28 February 2005:

"…there were numerous reports that persons were trafficked to, from, and within the country. Child prostitution was a problem, particularly in urban areas. Despite the arrests of suspected traffickers during the year, there were no successful prosecutions of traffickers in persons by year's end…The country was a source country for women, children, and to a lesser extent men, trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced domestic and commercial labor, primarily to the Gulf States and Lebanon. NGOs estimated that between 20,000 and 25,000 persons annually were trafficked internationally. Internal trafficking was also a serious problem. Children and adults were trafficked internally from rural areas to urban areas, principally for involuntary domestic servitude, and also for prostitution and forced labor, such as street vending. There were reports that Ethiopian women may have been trafficked onward from Lebanon to Europe…NGOs reported that impoverished girls as young as age 11 were recruited to work in houses of prostitution where they were kept uninformed of the risks of HIV/AIDS infection and other sexually transmitted diseases…According to an NGO report, 60 percent of commercial sex workers were between the ages of 16 and 25. Underage girls worked as hotel workers, barmaids, and prostitutes in resort towns and rural truck stops. IOM reported that trafficking was "increasing at an alarming rate." A 2003 study by a foreign government on the problem of internal trafficking of women and children confirmed that the problem was pervasive…There was almost no government assistance, in the form of counseling or other support services, to trafficked victims who returned to the country. The government provided limited consular assistance in a few cases…"

DoS Human Rights Report released on 8 March 2006:

"…Ethiopia was a source country for men, women, and children trafficked for forced labor and sexual exploitation. Young Ethiopian women were trafficked to Djibouti and the Middle East, particularly Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain for involuntary domestic labor. A small percentage were trafficked for sexual exploitation to Europe via Lebanon. Small numbers of men were trafficked to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states for exploitation as low-skilled laborers. Both children and adults were trafficked internally from rural to urban areas for domestic labor and, to a lesser extent, for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor, such as street vending. NGOs estimated that international trafficking annually involved between 20 and 25 thousand victims…The government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking…Despite arrests of suspected traffickers in 2004, there were no successful prosecutions of traffickers by year's end…The government provided little assistance to trafficked victims who returned to the country…"

DoS Human Rights Report released on 6 March 2007:

"…there were reports that persons were trafficked from and within the country. The country was a source country for men, women, and children trafficked for forced labor and sexual exploitation. Young women were trafficked to Djibouti and the Middle East, particularly Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain for involuntary domestic labor. Some women were trafficked for sexual exploitation to Europe via Lebanon. Small numbers of men were trafficked to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states for exploitation as low-skilled laborers. Both children and adults were trafficked internally from rural to urban areas for domestic labor and, to a lesser extent, for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor, such as street vending and weaving…The IOM reported in 2004 that trafficking was "increasing at an alarming rate." A 2003 study by a foreign government on the problem of internal trafficking of women and children confirmed that the problem was pervasive. The overwhelming majority of respondents confirmed that traffickers, typically unorganized petty criminals, lured women and children from rural areas to Addis Ababa and other urban centers with false promises of employment. Of the 459 respondents, 46 percent were illiterate and 49 percent had completed no more than an eighth-grade education. Upon arrival at their new destinations, 54 percent worked as domestic servants, but that number dropped to 9 percent as the trafficked women and children took jobs in bars, became prostitutes, or begged on the street…Private entities arranged for overseas work and, as a result, traffickers sent women to Middle Eastern countries--particularly Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates--as domestic or industrial workers. These women typically were trafficked through Djibouti, Yemen, and Syria. They were trafficked out of the country either through the international airport in Addis Ababa, to Djibouti, or through the country's porous border with Somalia…"

DoS Human Rights Report released on 11 March 2008:

"…there were reports that persons were trafficked from and within the country. The country was a source country for men, women, and children trafficked for forced labor and sexual exploitation…According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) there were a total of more than 130,000 Ethiopian migrant workers (legal and illegal) in the Middle East, predominantly women. NGOs and Ethiopia's Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) estimated that the majority of illegal Ethiopian workers in Middle Eastern countries were trafficked rather than smuggled for employment purposes. According to data from MOLSA and IOM, 13,498 Ethiopian workers migrated to the Middle East between September 2005 and August 2006; and 12,016 Ethiopian workers migrated to the Middle East between September 2006 and January 2007…Young women were trafficked to Djibouti and the Middle East, particularly Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain for involuntary domestic labor. Some women were trafficked for sexual exploitation to Europe (Specifically Turkey and Greece) via Lebanon…Small numbers of men were trafficked to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states for exploitation as low-skilled laborers. Both children and adults were trafficked internally from rural to urban areas for domestic labor and, to a lesser extent, for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor, such as street vending and weaving…Trafficked Ethiopians transited Egypt, Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya, and Tanzania to perform domestic labor in Lebanon and other Gulf states. They also transited Sudan and Libya as part of irregular migration to Europe and North America. Ethiopians were trafficked to Djibouti for domestic labor and the sex industry, and to South Africa to perform labor associated with hosting the World Cup…Local NGOs reported that internal trafficking of children and adults within the country continued to be a serious problem. Vulnerable individuals (such as young adults from rural areas and children) who transited the Addis Ababa bus terminal were sometimes identified and targeted by agents (or traffickers) who approached them offering jobs, food, guidance, or shelter. NGO representatives reported that some traffickers focused on rural villages to recruit specific types of laborers…According to international NGOs, child prostitution was a growing problem, particularly in urban areas. Approximately 60 percent of persons exploited in prostitution were between the ages of 16 and 25, according to one NGO report. Underage girls worked as hotel workers, barmaids, and prostitutes in resort towns and at rural truck stops…NGOs reported that houses of prostitution recruited impoverished girls as young as age 11 and kept them uninformed of the risks of HIV/AIDS infection and other sexually transmitted diseases. IOM officials reported some linkages between internal and international trafficking, specifically noting that children internally trafficked from Dire Dawa, Bahir Dar, and Dessie, were frequently sent to the Middle East, transiting through Dire Dawa, Jijiga, Bosasso (in Somalia), and then Djibouti…"

DoS Human Rights Report released on 25 February 2009:

"…there were reports that persons were trafficked from and within the country…The country is a source country for men, women, and children trafficked primarily for the purpose of forced labor and, to a lesser extent, for commercial sexual exploitation…Young women, particularly those ages 16-30, were the most commonly trafficked group, while a small number of children were also reportedly trafficked internationally…Rural children and adults are trafficked to urban areas for domestic servitude and, less frequently, commercial sexual exploitation and other forced labor, such as street vending, begging, traditional weaving, or agriculture; situations of debt bondage were reported. Women are trafficked transnationally for domestic servitude, primarily to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, but also to Bahrain, Djibouti, Kuwait, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Some of these women are trafficked into the sex trade after arriving at their destinations, while others have been trafficked onward from Lebanon to Turkey, Italy, and Greece. Small numbers of men are trafficked to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States for low-skilled forced labor…Addis Ababa's police Child Protection Unit (CPU) reported that traffic broker networks grew increasingly sophisticated and collaborative. Traffickers now approached vulnerable individuals at bus terminals seven to nine miles outside of Addis Ababa to avoid police presence. Traffickers sometimes used agents and brokers to lure victims with jobs, food, guidance, or shelter…Crosscountry bus and truck drivers are involved in trafficking of children, while brokers, pimps, and brothel owners finalize the deal at the receiving end…Local brokers operate and recruit at the community level, and many knew the victim or victim's family. To avoid police detection and identification, local brokers did not advertise, often worked from rented houses, cafes, or hotel rooms, and changed places often. Some brokers used commission-based facilitators who were trusted by a potential victim's family to recruit victims…The government and its embassies and consulates provided little assistance to victims of trafficking: limited legal advice, infrequent temporary shelter, and no repatriation loans. Returning victims relied on psychological services provided by public health institutions and NGOs…The government accords no special protections, restitution, and has very limited shelter provisions or other special services benefits for victim returnees. In 2007 there were anecdotal reports of returned trafficking victims being detained, jailed, or prosecuted for violations of laws, such as those governing prostitution or immigration…"

In addition, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimated there were between 150,000 and 200,000 street children in Ethiopia, with a further one million vulnerable or at risk of ending up on the streets. These children begged, sometimes as part of a gang, or worked in the informal sector. Government and privately run orphanages were unable to handle the number of street children, and older children often abused younger ones. "Handlers" sometimes maimed or blinded children to raise their earnings from begging. Despite the huge presence of humanitarian and other NGOs in Ethiopia, despite the density of UN agencies and under the watchful eye of the corrupt and inept African Union, Ethiopian men, women and children are trafficked within Ethiopia and beyond, with the tacit approval of and participation of the minority regime´s cadres and militias.

The Government of Eritrea takes human trafficking very seriously and rightly considers it a national security issue. Anyone caught engaging in any trafficking is prosecuted and punished. The Government of Eritrea constantly conducts numerous seminars and workshops, television and radio programs and awareness campaigns through the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students (NUEYS) and the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEWS) to educate the public and warn its citizens of the dangers involved. Eritrean Ambassadors and the Eritrean Diaspora have regular seminars in which the issue of youth trafficking is addressed and discussed, including the role of some in the Diaspora who wittingly or unwittingly become financial sources for such illegal activities.

The Government of Eritrea has also taken action against foreign traffickers. It should be recalled that several members of the United Nations Mission to Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) were expelled from the country for transporting Eritrean youth across the Eritrea Ethiopia border. But it is not only UNMEE personnel that have engaged in trafficking. In 2005, employees of the US Embassy in Eritrea were detained for engaging in human trafficking activities. In another incident reported on 5 September 2007, the Government of Eritrea in its Press Statement said:

"…In October 2003, a visiting military team of the US Task Force based in Djibouti (CJTF-HOA) assisted the unlawful departure of an Eritrean citizen to Djibouti aboard its helicopter in violation of the domestic laws of the country…"

As the evidence above shows, the Government and people of Eritrea do not condone or encourage human trafficking in or out of Eritrea. How ironic that the Department of State that chastised Eritrea for taking deterrent actions against those engaged in human trafficking in the past, is now accusing Eritrea of doing nothing to prevent it.

Ethiopia under the dictatorship of Meles Zenawi is a source nation for human trafficking as well as a transit for trafficked persons. As has been widely reported by the western media, youth trafficked from Eritrea are placed in UNHCR run "refugee camps" in Ethiopia. It is no secret that the UNHCR and other UN personnel and the regime in Ethiopia, have for the last 10 years, actively encouraged and facilitated the trafficking of Eritreans, especially the youth, from Eritrea. Eritreans have been targeted by certain quarters who want to weaken the Government and people of Eritrea by luring the youth out of Eritrea using pretexts such as "human rights", "prolonged national service" etc. to justify their illegal cross border activities. It is also not a secret that there are thousands of Ethiopians who have filed for asylum in the United States and in Europe posing as Eritreans.

Those of us who live in the Eastern sea board have seen the influx of Eritrean Kunamas who were displaced by the Eritrean Ethiopian border conflict in 1998-2000, conveniently labeled as "persecuted groups" and brought to the United States from Ethiopia, instead of repatriating them to Eritrea, with the full acquiescence and complicity of UNHCR and the Department of State. Once in Ethiopia, their "migration" to the United States and Europe is run by a human trafficking cartel which includes members of the Eritrean Quislings League (EQL) in the US, Europe and in Ethiopia, who facilitate, finance and coordinate the dangerous voyages through the Sahara desert and across the Mediterranean and other seas. UNHCR and self serving Europe based NGOs and individuals also play an active role in preventing the repatriation of trafficked persons, including army deserters to Eritrea.

The EQL cartel also provides "refugee services" and "immigration consultations" for the trafficked Eritrean youth. The recent surge in Eritreans trafficked from South Africa, through South America (Brazil and Mexico) and delivered to Texas and other states by EQL cartels, is something that needs to be investigated. According to my sources, trafficked persons are delivered to the doorsteps of their clients who pay close to $30,000 for the service. Immigration officials ought to be investigating members of the EQL who have and continue to engage in human trafficking. In addition to bringing members of their families to the US (more on this topic at another time), there is irrefutable evidence that shows that they have also facilitated the trafficking of other Eritreans.

Putting Eritrea on Tier Three, while placing Ethiopia, the human trafficking hub in the Horn of Africa, in Tier Two, has rightly generated moral outrage among independent scholars and Eritreans in general. This erroneous placement is further evidence of the faulty research and political bias that have come to define the Department of State´s annual reports. Furthermore, this heavy-handed U.S. designation not only flies in the face of quality analyses done by other organizations, including the United Nations, it also defies logic and the facts on the ground. The Government of Eritrea cannot stop the trafficking of Eritrean youth from Ethiopia and elsewhere, if the receiving countries in Europe and the United States are unwilling to play constructive roles and make changes in their immigration policies, which encourage illegal flight and migration.

The Obama Administration needs to take a closer look at its immigration policies and its Diversity Visa (DV) programs that encourage illegal exit of potential candidates in violation of Eritrean laws. It is one thing to give educational and other opportunities for to people who want to come to the United States, but it is a totally different matter when the DV lottery is used to deliberately and systematically lure the youth, the productive members of the young nation, and drain its valuable human resources. The Department of State ought to be investigating its own in country personnel who seem to have mistaken their diplomatic immunity to mean diplomatic impunity. Eritrea´s sudden appearance on the DoS´s list casts severe doubt on the Department´s credibility and integrity and Eritreans around the globe categorically reject the placement of Eritrea on any of its Tiers!

The rule of law must prevail over the law of the jungle!

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