Returns from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)

The Eastern Route – to the Gulf Cooperation Council countries via Djibouti and Somalia – is one of the three main international exit routes in Ethiopia. Although exact figures on outward migration are largely unknown, the World Bank cites the 2017 stock of Ethiopian emigrants to be at around 850,000 – 20 per cent of whom in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) alone. According to figures provided by the Ethiopian Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MoLSA, 2019), these estimates appear to be largely conservative and the total number of Ethiopian migrants abroad is closer to 3 million – 17 per cent of whom in the KSA. Data on flows is also very limited; between 2008 and 2014, MoLSA estimates that around 480,000 Ethiopians migrated to the Middle East through legal channels – 79 per cent of whom to the KSA. However, most movements are believed to be irregular, with MoLSA suggesting a ratio of around 2:3 between movements through irregular channels, and those through regular channels.

In addition to being informal, economically driven and highly risky, migration to the Middle East tends to be temporary, meaning that most migrants return to Ethiopia after a few years abroad. In the last five years, following the regularization of the KSA labour market, returns have mainly been involuntary. IOM estimates that around 390,000 Ethiopians have returned to Ethiopia since the 2017 decree on illegal migrants was issued, 92 per cent of whom involuntarily. Given this sudden and unprepared forced repatriation, the reintegration of these returnees has been painfully slow and largely unaddressed. Most returnees face severe difficulties in reintegrating, as they return empty-handed because they used their earnings for living expenses and remittances. Many of them also experienced severe hardships during their stay and during return, causing medical and psychological conditions. Because of its intrinsic characteristics, migration along the Eastern Route is only bound to increase, as more young jobseekers enter the labour market, move from rural into urban areas and benefit from the circle of remittances and/or transnational networks.

Ethiopian returnees arrive at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, where they have been electronically registered by IOM staff since May 2017. IOM also provides travel support and other assistance to the most vulnerable migrants. The monthly Return of Ethiopian Migrants from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia factsheet presents the post-arrival registration data including demographic and geographical indicators, occupations carried out in the KSA and plans for the future. Similar return movements were also observed to Sudan and Somalia, although in smaller volumes.

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