Thousands of irregular and undocumented migrants in Lebanon have lost their livelihoods due to COVID-19 and the economic crisis. Many have begun to return home to Ethiopia.
Sewasew Gereme is among the returnees. She chose to return from Lebanon five months ago, at the onset of the pandemic, when she was dismissed by her employer.
“We lost our jobs, we struggled. Some of our friends fell ill,” she said. “Things in Beirut are currently bad, and it was getting to a point where our lives were at risk.”
Ethiopia received over 15,300 returnees since 1 April 2020:
- 4,440 from Sudan
- 3,700 from Djibouti
- 3,000 from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)
- 2,700 from Somalia
- 640 from Lebanon
- 1,000 from other countries (e.g. Kuwait)
Staff from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other humanitarian organizations facilitated the returnees’ arrival, directing them to handwashing facilities, and urging physical distancing to reduce risk of the disease being transmitted.
The migrants have been screened for symptoms of the disease and given Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) by Ethiopia’s Public Health Institute. The majority are young women who were working in the Middle East, are all now in government-led quarantine centres.
IOM also is providing travel allowances for migrants to get back to their towns and villages across the country, after leaving quarantine.
“The quarantine centre is the most critical part of the journey for returning migrants amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Milun Jovanovic, the Head of Operations at IOM Ethiopia. “We are doing our best to provide all the necessary items at quarantine centres together with the government and streamlining efforts by other UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.”
IOM is also distributing essential items PPE, bedding, sanitation products, and tents, donated by UNICEF, UNHCR, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Concern Worldwide, Action Aid, Samaritan’s Purse, and TT Shoe Factory, to quarantine centres. But, more returning migrants are expected in the country in the coming days and weeks, at a time when COVID-19 infection rates in Ethiopia are still rising.
“As per the UN resolution and the African Union communique, one of the ways to get COVID-19 under control is to restrict movement. The recommendation is to assist citizens where they are instead of moving them,” said Tsion Teklu, State Foreign Minister of Ethiopia.
An estimated 460,000 Ethiopians have migrated to the Gulf between 2008 and 2013. Hundreds of thousands of others have migrated through irregular channels, mainly via Yemen.