What life’s actually like for Ethiopians in the Gulf

The BBC and other outlets are tonight carrying the story that some 23,000 Ethiopians have “surrendered” to police in Riyadh following a clampdown on illegal migrants last week that led to rioting and at least five deaths (accounts vary of the nationalities of those killed).

Local media reports like this have talked of “troublemakers” on the “rampage”, or of how many Saudi families have decided to fire their Ethiopian maids (“I have hired maids from different nationalities but I should say Ethiopians are the most arrogant and stubborn ones” … “I have always feared leaving my children under their care.”)

A psychologist might say that there’s some projection going on here, given that many, if not most, Ethiopian workers in the Gulf (and there are a lot of them) have a pretty awful time.

I’ve lived in Ethiopia since early 2012, and every time I fly out of Addis Ababa’s Bole airport I see dozens of migrant labourers waiting for flights to the other side of the Red Sea. This time last year, when I was in Qatar for the climate summit, I saw some of what awaited them at the other end. Continue reading