Meseret Assefa is an Ethiopian expat living in Nigeria who’s on a mission to raise awareness about the atrocities against Ethiopian migrants in Saudi Arabia. In a recent interview with The Huffington Post, Assefa recounts the suffering she witnessed while living in Saudi Arabia.
Over the last several years, Ethiopians have migrated to Saudi Arabia in hopes of having a better life. They see the vast oil industry and streets that are practically paved with money, but soon find out, all that glitters isn’t gold. The migrants come to the harsh realization that they’re not wanted in Saudi Arabia. In Ethiopia, a college graduate will make on average $90 a month, but in Saudi Arabia, when becoming a domestic worker, the promise of making $200 is enticing.
“These girls don’t know anything. When they arrive to Saudi Arabia, the owner snatches their passport or any travel documents they may have. They don’t know their rights,” Meseret says. A kafala system that grants ownership of migrants to the employer or sponsor (an individual or often, an agency) means the foreign worker does not have the right to live freely. The kafala system, having been condemned by human rights groups, is facing further scrutiny.
Stories of rape, brutal beatings, nonpayment of wages are re-shared on social media. Unverifiable videos like this one where a man lies dead on the ground with a bullet mark and this one of a brutal stabbing reveal a cycle of endemic abuse. Human Rights Watch says Ethiopians are giving accounts of Saudis attacking foreigners, holding machetes and sticks.
Assefa has organized protests in Nigeria’s capital of Abuja, to bring more attention to the issue. An online petition was created and will be delivered to the director of the UNHCR, Amnesty International USA, United States House of Representatives and U.S. President Barack Obama. So far it has over 23,000 signatures:
“Recently the number of violence and horrific acts against immigrants in Saudia Arabia especially Ethiopians have been off the chart…The so called police and military of Saudi Arabia has been noted killing or beating immigrants to near death situation.” — Stop the violence against Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia, petition
One issue that plagues Assefa is the lack of activism, and some Africans not caring.
“In Africa, it’s like the people believe, ‘we are in Africa. There is nothing we can do,'” she explains. “We have problems as Africans ourselves. That’s how I see it. We don’t stand for our rights.” Assefa is hoping that more Africans will take a stand and have their voices heard.