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The role of agents and brokers in facilitating Ethiopian women into domestic work in the Middle East

September 27, 2022 / Evidence in Practice, Our Reports The Freedom Fund / @freedom_fund

Findings from the Meneshachin (‘Our Departure’) study on responsible recruitment models

Strong demand for low-wage workers in the Middle East, coupled with fewer job opportunities at home, have helped sustain high rates of outward migration in Ethiopia. Most women are using informal brokers and opting for irregular migration to earn a living abroad, particularly to countries such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Kuwait.

While the Ethiopian government has introduced new legislation to regulate the labour migration process, until now, little has been known about how recruiters operate and the “chain” of middlemen who send women into domestic work abroad.

The Meneshachin (‘Our Departure’) study—produced by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the Population Council and the Freedom Fund, and funded by the U.S Department of State Office to Combat and Monitor Trafficking in Persons—investigated how women plan their migration and the roles played by formal recruiters and informal brokers in the migration process.

Drawing on 156 interviews with stakeholders across Ethiopia, including returnees, prospective migrants, formal recruiters and informal brokers, the study found that many prospective migrants believe legal migration through government-registered recruiters in Addis Ababa takes too long and is too costly. Instead, women are more likely to rely on informal brokers in their community to find them work abroad quickly.

Joanna Busza, Associate Professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and lead author of the report said: “While women are being advised to migrate the formal way, in reality there is no easy way for them to access a registered recruiter.

“Aspiring migrants, especially those outside the capital city, are going with whichever broker they can find locally and often end up working illegally in the Middle East. We already know they risk exploitation—including long hours, poor living conditions and violence—but in the current system, it is hard to hold anyone accountable.”

The report highlights urgent actions needed from governments, UN agencies and recruitment industry bodies, such as improving the speed and ease migrants need to obtain official documents required for regular migration. It also calls for community-level interventions for more accurate information about conditions and wages for domestic work in the Middle East.

Click below to read the full report and watch the online launch event here.

Freedom Fund