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The rise of survivor-led organisations in Ethiopia

June 19, 2024

The irregular migration and trafficking of migrant workers to and from the Gulf states continues to be a challenging issue in Ethiopia. Various factors, such as limited access to accurate information for informed decision-making, inadequate management of labour migration, poorly implemented infrastructure and policies, as well as insufficient civil society support, have contributed to the hardships faced by migrant workers, survivors of trafficking, and returnees. Furthermore, the lack of comprehensive and effective bilateral agreements with destination countries has failed to ensure protection for Ethiopian migrant workers in the Middle East, with research from the Freedom Fund finding that the level of exploitation is similar regardless of whether the migrant follows official, or unofficial, channels.

In recent years, there have been encouraging strides made by the Ethiopian government, civil society organisations, and bilateral partners. However, further efforts and closer examination are needed to increase protection and support for survivors in the Middle East.

In 2015, the Freedom Fund initiated its pioneering hotspot program in Ethiopia, with the objective of reducing the vulnerability of potential migrants and returning women to trafficking in the Middle East. The program enhanced livelihoods, advocated for safer migration practices, and offered support to trafficking survivors. Since its inception, the Freedom Fund, along with its partners, has invested more than $16.9 million, positively impacting more than 190,000 individuals. Additionally, it has provided support to strengthen the migration management system and bolster organisations on the frontline addressing these challenges. At present, the Freedom Fund extends its support to more than 22 organisations in Ethiopia that are actively engaged in ending trafficking and addressing migration-related issues.

The Freedom Fund identified a significant gap in survivor engagement within migration management and response strategies, including a lack of survivor involvement in project design, peer support, and enhancing the effectiveness of civil society organisations. Additionally, survivor voices were not adequately represented in advocating for future interventions and policy improvements.

Survivors have a crucial role to play in shaping project designs, providing support to their peers, and enhancing the efficiency of systems within civil society organisations. Their perspectives are also instrumental in advocating for meaningful changes in future interventions and policy frameworks. Understanding the immense value that individuals with lived experience bring, we made a deliberate effort to bring survivors together and their perspectives are instrumental in advocating for meaningful changes in future interventions and policy frameworks.

In 2019, the Freedom Fund took a significant step forward by forming the first survivor-led group with 12 members, consisting of two representatives from each partner organisation in Addis Ababa. This initiative provided them with necessary support, involved them in decision-making processes and promoted their overall empowerment. From 2019 to 2021, the group received tailored training with the goal of maximising their engagement in the country’s response to migration and trafficking. Training focused on teamwork, leadership, organisational development techniques and understanding the importance of survivors in the anti-slavery sector.

In 2021, ‘KASMA’ (meaning ‘foundation’ in Amharic) became the first survivor-led organisation in Ethiopia to complete the legal registration process. With a dedicated board of directors and recognition from the Ethiopian Charities and Societies Agency, this accomplishment laid the foundation for the formal establishment of survivor-led initiatives and their ongoing efforts to empower other survivors.

Building on the success of KASMA, the Freedom Fund has now extended its assistance to two other survivor groups, Finot and Biruh Addis. Through its partner Hiwot Ethiopia, the Freedom Fund facilitated the registration processes for these groups, underscoring its commitment to empowering survivors and fostering their active participation in addressing the challenges associated with irregular migration and trafficking.

Freedom Fund invited leaders from survivor-led organisations to celebrate their establishment as a legal entities. From left to right: Yenenesh Tilahun, Executive Director, KASMA Charitable Organization; Webendene Enbiale, Executive Director ,Biruh Addis Charitable Organization; Firehiwot Abiy, Executive Director, Finot Charitable Organization; Hiwot Dagim, Group Executive Director, Misale Music and Art

Moreover, the Freedom Fund provided an unrestricted grant to revive the survivor group Misale, which had suspended its operations due to a lack of funding. They have subsequently re-formed and strengthened their activities supporting  survivors through music and art.

These initiatives highlight our ongoing commitment to not only survivor empowerment, but also in promoting their leadership in efforts to end migration-related exploitation in Ethiopia and beyond.

Currently, the Freedom Fund takes great pride in supporting five survivor-led organisations in Ethiopia through the unrestricted Survivor Leadership Fund. This has played a crucial role in enabling these organisations to effectively carry out their vital work addressing the challenges of migration management.

The support provided by the Survivor Leadership Fund not only uplifts survivor-led organisations but also enables them to have a lasting impact on the lives of other survivors through the eyes of invaluable lived-experience, ensuring that survivors have the necessary resources and support to continue their mission and create significant change in the fight against irregular migration, trafficking and exploitation.

Moving forward, it is crucial to maintain steadfast support for, and amplify, the voices of survivor-led organisations. Survivors should not be seen solely as recipients of aid, but as influential agents of change.

The growth of survivor-led organisations in Ethiopia has sparked a fundamental shift in how we address the challenges faced by trafficking survivors and returnees. By acknowledging the expertise and resilience of survivors, we can create a more comprehensive approach to tackling the problems. This recognition paves the way for more inclusive and survivor-centred solutions. By working hand in hand with survivors, we can create a future where their voices are heard, their rights are protected, and their experiences inform our collective efforts to build a more just and equitable society.

Written by
Daniel Melese
Country Representative, Ethiopia