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The US Department of State commends the Ethiopian government’s efforts to combat human trafficking but urges that more needs to be done to eliminate the practice in the country.

The Department’s 2024 Trafficking in Person report reveals that the Ethiopian government did not take adequate action to address internal trafficking crimes, including domestic servitude and child sex trafficking, despite the scale of the problem.

It criticizes officials for insufficient investigation into trafficking cases and corruption, and the judicial system for light sentencing when it comes to cases of forced domestic servitude.

The federal government reported investigating close to 730 trafficking cases, the vast majority of which were of unspecified forms while 21 were cases of labor trafficking, according to the report. It is significantly higher than the 498 investigations conducted in 2022, but not enough, according to US State Department officials.

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The report reveals the government prosecuted 650 or more individuals as part of 531 cases, two of which were sex trafficking cases, over the reporting period. More than 240 of these individuals were convicted, similar to 225 convictions reported in 2022.

The State Department notes that “corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns” hobbling law enforcement action. It mentions the prevalence of bribery and the production of fraudulent documentation to facilitate trafficking among police, immigration officers, and judicial officials.

The report reveals that the federal government investigated and charged more than 60 immigration officials, including the deputy head of the Immigration and Citizenship Services (ICS), on charges of human trafficking and migrant smuggling crimes.

The report notes the number is a significant increase from just two officials investigated in 2022. It also highlights that the government cooperated with the governments of Malawi, the UAE, and the UK on potential trafficking investigations over the period, as well as signed an extradition deal with South Africa and an MoU for the establishment of a joint investigation team with Djibouti.

The report reveals that while the government identified 541 trafficking victims, NGOs and international organizations have reported identifying and assisting more than 4,200.

The government reported providing 1,022 potential victims with referrals to services provided by civil society organizations as it continues to rely on NGOs for shelter services, but its financial and in-kind support to these organizations remains “minimal,” according to the report.

It reveals that an international operates migration response centers (MRCs) in Dire Dawa, Metemma, Moyale, Semera, and Togochale to provide vulnerable migrants, including potential trafficking victims, with basic needs, temporary shelter, and family reunification support. The government maintained the operation of a child protection unit in Addis Ababa.

Trafficking in Ethiopia is focused on domestic servitude and sex trafficking exploiting women and girls, and labor trafficking affecting mostly boys and men. Brothels in Addis Ababa are mentioned as centers for sex trafficking, as are the city’s transportation hubs.

The report indicates that labor recruiters target rural areas for their trafficking activities, luring people to cities with promises of a better life. The report also warns that traffickers have been known to use app-based recruitment tools to recruit from vulnerable populations and that social media and the internet are increasingly common tools used for trafficking.

It also indicates that IDP populations are particularly vulnerable to trafficking due to a “lack of access to justice, education, economic opportunity, and basic needs, such as food, water, and health services.”

There are an estimated four million IDPs in Ethiopia as a result of conflict and climate change.

“Scarce economic opportunities and poverty, coupled with familial encouragement, compel tens of thousands of Ethiopians to transit out of Ethiopia via three main routes, where they are vulnerable to trafficking,” reads the report.

Gulf states are the destination for undocumented migrants taking the “Eastern” route through Djibouti or Somalia and then on to Yemen. The report notes that increased reports of violence at the Yemen-Saudi border is pushing a growing number of migrants to opt for crossing into Oman after reaching Yemen.

South Africa is the primary destination for migrants taking the “Southern” route through Kenya. The less common “Northwestern” route involves crossing into Libya or Egypt via Sudan and attempting to cross into Europe. The report notes that it is men who traditionally take this route.

“Across all three of these major migration routes, traffickers exploit Ethiopian migrants in sex and labor trafficking in transit countries and in their intended destinations. Families often finance irregular migration, and parents may force or coerce their children to travel abroad for work. Most traffickers are small local operators, often from the victims’ home communities, but highly organized trafficking networks also facilitate irregular migration flows and exploit individuals in sex or labor trafficking,” it reads.

The report mentions that Saudi Arabia remains the primary destination for economic migrants, representing up to 90 percent of Ethiopia’s labor migration. It indicates that traffickers frequently exploit this vulnerable population in sex or labor trafficking.

“Ethiopians traveling to the Middle East through licensed Ethiopian employment agencies are also susceptible to trafficking by employers or illegal employment agencies in the destination country,” reads the report.

It mentions the employer-based (kafala) system as complicit in trafficking in several Middle Eastern countries, including the UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon.

“Ethiopians abroad – especially in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia – often face stigmatization and abuse, leading to loss of employment and potential deportation; this population remains vulnerable to trafficking. In Lebanon, employers forcibly removed Ethiopian domestic workers from their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving them trapped in the country; unable to find new work or a safe way home,” reads the report.

It also mentions recent reports that Houthis in Yemen have forcibly recruited African migrants, including Ethiopians, to join their ranks after kidnapping hundreds who entered Houthi-controlled territory during their migration journey and transferring them to military training facilities.

#Economic #Conflict #Spurring #Human #Trafficking #Ethiopia #State #Department

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