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New report reveals high levels of exploitation faced by Ethiopian migrant domestic workers working in private homes

Press release
May 7, 2024

New report from Jordan, Kuwait, and Lebanon reveals high levels of exploitation faced by Ethiopian migrant domestic workers working in private homes, with many describing Ethiopian embassies as ‘unhelpful’

  • 75 percent of Ethiopian migrant domestic workers interviewed in Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait have experienced one or more type of abuse (including physical, sexual and/or financial abuse, confiscated passport and mobile phone, or no days off).
  • Communication home was sporadic, and in some cases, forbidden, and in the majority of cases, the women were not allowed to leave their employers’ homes.
  • In Kuwait and Jordan, the women surveyed did not know of any organisation that could help them.
  • Most women surveyed declared Ethiopian embassies were unhelpful.
  • While the Ethiopian government is working to support workers migrating to the Middle East, the Freedom Fund would urge Ethiopian Embassies in destination countries to establish better support, such as migrant worker helpdesks to offer critical support to migrants who are experiencing abuse.

The release of a new report, Between Hope and Hardship: Migration and work experiences of Ethiopian domestic workers in Jordan, Kuwait and Lebanon, in collaboration with the New York University and University of Massachusetts Lowell and community-led partners in Lebanon, Kuwait and Jordan, is the first of its kind to investigate the experiences of female migrant domestic workers from Ethiopia in the Middle East using interviews of workers in destination countries.

The research investigates what vulnerabilities put Ethiopian domestic workers at risk of labour trafficking in the Middle East; the experiences of Ethiopian women who’ve encountered labour trafficking in the Middle East; the ability to access, and knowledge of, the help they can seek and receive (such as reporting maltreatment); and migration routes taken and communication with those at home in Ethiopia.

The research – with results varying by country and profile of migrant workers we were able to identify for interview – details the exploitation experienced by the women while working in private homes, including long hours; sexual and physical abuse; and withholding of pay and passports. Through chance encounters with other Ethiopian migrants, some of the women were able to exchange information, such as tips on running away, or obtain contact information for other Ethiopians, who might be able to help or places to run to for assistance (such as an Ethiopian church). The majority of those who took part in the study revealed they received little help from Ethiopian embassies in destination countries. Many of the women who took part in the study were no longer working as full-time domestic workers, having escaped their situations, yet leaving them incredibly vulnerable and at risk of arrest, abuse, and deportation.

Sonia Martins, Senior Program Manager for the Freedom Fund, said: “The majority of research conducted to date on the experiences of Ethiopian migrant domestic workers in the Middle East has relied on interviews with women once they have returned to their home country, but this research fills a notable gap by including the voices of workers currently residing in destination countries. This research is therefore invaluable if we are to support Ethiopian women who are working in the Gulf, as well as before and after they migrate.

“This new research reveals that despite knowing the risks associated with migrating to the Middle East for work, the women interviewed were in often desperate socio-economic situations – mainly due to conflict, climate change and lack of job opportunities – or direct threat to their life, and many migrated via irregular routes to avoid lengthy bureaucracy, or took out loans which could take years to pay back.

“In light of this research, as well as urging for more to be done in rural areas of Ethiopia to provide access to information and services to women wanting to migrate; more information available about migration in communities and schools; more protection and insurance for workers during the migration process; and the building of a regional coalition of sending countries, we urgently need support from embassies and consulates in destination countries to protect these women, to use their collective power to influence bilateral agreement policies and protections.”

Meredith Dank, Associate Professor at New York University – Marron Institute said: “This research afforded us the rare opportunity to document the experiences of Ethiopian women who migrate to the Middle East for domestic work. This would not have been possible without the brave women willing to come forward to share not only their stories, but also provide recommendations grounded in their own personal experiences to help improve the migration process for all who go abroad to work.”

For more information, email Melanie Hargreaves, Media and PR Manager.

The Freedom Fund is a global fund with the sole aim of helping end modern slavery. We are a catalyst in the global effort to end modern slavery, working in the countries and sectors where it is most prevalent. We invest in and partner with organisations and communities on the frontlines of ending exploitation.

By partnering with those at risk of modern slavery as well as visionary investors, governments and anti-slavery organisations, we bring together the knowledge, the capital and the will needed to dismantle the systems that allow slavery to exist and thrive.

Through our investments and support, we aim to shift power, so that frontline organisations and communities can shape and drive the change required to bring modern slavery to an end.

The Marron Institute of Urban Management at New York University is a provostial institute that operates as a think-do tank. The institute’s mandate is impact. It invests in faculty and practice scholars who conduct on-the-ground research and programming, working alongside practitioners and the public they serve to gain insights and test new approaches with the potential to dramatically improve the quality of life in cities across the globe. The Institute brings a multidisciplinary approach, with expertise in the natural and social sciences, engineering, and governance. Through innovation, experimentation, and data analysis, the Institute promotes responsive decision-making in all sectors. The Institute addresses critical challenges in development and public services across six continents.

Photo: woman hanging laundry in Lebanon, Christelle Hayek/Unsplash

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The Freedom Fund