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Updated Aug 4, 2020
Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed (Michael Tewelde/via AFP)
Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed (Michael Tewelde/via AFP)

Over the past decade, high unemployment has forced tens of thousands of Ethiopians to travel overseas to find work, many to the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East. It was illegal for Ethiopians to do so until, in 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed lifted the restrictions on overseas migration for work.

Migrant laborers, who are often subjected to poor working conditions, crowded housing, and little access to healthcare, are now also bearing the brunt of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.


She had been kept in detention for forty day before she was deported


Since mid-March, according to the Ethiopian government, more than 30,000 workers have re-entered the country. Some have returned voluntarily, but others suffered mistreatment in detention centers before they were deported. The New York Times reported that Selam Bizuneh, a twenty-six-year-old who had lost her job as a domestic worker in Kuwait, had been kept in detention for forty days before she was deported. Shortly after arriving home, she tested positive for COVID-19.

Ethiopian officials say that nearly 1,000 migrant laborers were found to be infected with the virus on their return, but the real number is likely to be much higher. This is placing a strain on the country’s already overburdened health system, even though international funding has helped to strengthen its response to the pandemic.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Abiy launched a month-long national campaign—which includes testing 200,000 people for the virus within two weeks—to get an overview of the scale of the pandemic in order to control it better.


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