Migration. Capture. A new beginning. The story of Tsehay from Ethiopia
When everything around her felt hopeless and distant, Tsehay Bifa, now a 30-year-old mother of one, felt that she had no choice but to migrate and try her chances for a better life across borders. “I couldn’t even wait to take the 10th grade national exam. I was ready to embrace what I thought would be the perfect opportunity for me to grow,” she says. Tsehay soon dropped out of high school to make her way to the Middle East.
With a rising number of migrants leaving the country in search of better job opportunities, each with the thought of finding what they believe to be life-changing experiences, a large number of Ethiopian citizens have now become easy targets for abuse, extortion and exploitation.
With this in mind, Stemming Irregular Migration in Northern and Central Ethiopia (SINCE), a program funded by the European Union and implemented by the Embassy of Italy in Ethiopia was created. Its purpose is to contribute to the reduction of irregular migration in five regions in Ethiopia - Addis Ababa, Amhara, Oromia, Tigray and the Southern, and Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region [SNNPR] - by improving the living conditions of the most vulnerable people, that is, potential migrants and returnees. The ‘Job Creation for Potential Migrants in Addis Ababa’ is part of the SINCE program and is led by People In Need together with Alliance2015 partners Concern World Wide, International Volunteer Service for Development (VIS) and Organization for Child Development and Transformation (CHADET).
For Tsehay, migrating and finding a good job in the Middle East soon became her ultimate dream and measure of success. The first time, Tsehay and the group she migrated with were kept in an unknown room in Kuwait before being assigned to a family. “They made us sleep on cardboard laid out on floors and there were bed bugs everywhere, which made it hard to fall asleep,” she says. “I remember almost always feeling faint because they weren’t giving us enough to eat. In the morning we would get a piece of bread with tea to get us through the entire day and for dinner we only got one spoonful of rice and potatoes, it was horrible,” she adds.
We were picked out like sheep
After days of enduring harsh realities, Tsehay revealed that none of it made her feel as worthless as the selection process she had to go through before being assigned to a family. “Many men and woman who needed housemaids kept coming in and out throughout the day. They would come into the room, have a good look at us, pick the one they wanted and leave. We were picked out like sheep,” she says.
In her new family, Tsehay recalls her days. “My employer was very controlling, she would lock me in the house every day when she went to work for fear I would escape,” says Tsehay and continues: “This one time, she heated up a pot of oil and almost poured it on me, I had to quickly strain her arms to protect myself. When I asked her why she did that, she warned me never to look at her husband again. I had only looked up at him because he was talking to me.”
Tsehay stayed in this household for two years before deciding she’d had enough of her employer’s behavior. She returned back home, but it wasn’t long before she decided to migrate again. After just three months, she returned to the Middle East, this time working for a new family for a year before deciding to run away in search of potentially higher-paying part time jobs. For the next seven months, Tsehay worked part time in several households, as many as three in a day, until she was captured, arrested and sent to jail.
I was forced to share a room with murderers and psychopaths
“My time in jail was horrifying, they kept transferring me from one jail to the next and I was forced to share a room with murderers and psychopaths every time. I was also compelled to listen to their stories, which they used as a means to frighten me. I still think about that time, I can’t seem to get rid of the memories,” Tsehay recalls. After three months in jail, she was deported back home.
Before long, Tsehay migrated to Kuwait a third time. “I didn’t want to migrate again, especially after my last experience but I felt hopeless in finding a job that could sustain me and my daughter,” she explains and continues: “In my new home in Kuwait, I was overworked, underpaid and physically abused by my male employer. He would beat me if he felt I wasn’t working hard enough. This one time, he made me wash his feet. I’ve never even washed my parent’s feet! I’ve never felt so degraded in my life.” After three years of enduring these hardships, Tsehay decided to return back home once again.
With the goal of never migrating again, Tsehay started to actively seek jobs that she might qualify for at home. That’s when her local district committee informed her about the SINCE programme, which she registered for without hesitation. As an ideal candidate, she was quickly accepted and enrolled in the program.
Tsehay spent the first three months of the program learning how to make leather footwear at Misrak Polytechnic College, after which she successfully continued to the Kangaroo Shoe Factory for the apprenticeship program.
“I have learned so many skills from this program already and I know it will continue to teach me more. I want to use these skills to contribute to leather factories in Ethiopia and maybe one day open my own business,” says Tsehay, smiling. “With the day care that the program has set up for mothers, I get to focus on the training without having to worry about my daughter, this is really great,” she adds.
Here, you have hope, you have love, you have family
We finally asked Tsehay what message she would like to share with people who still chose to migrate irregularly and work overseas. “For me, I have decided never to migrate again, I have faced many challenges and nothing is worth that risk. For my brothers and sisters who continue to migrate, I say, please rethink your decisions. It is better to be poor but employed in your country than to become rich by sacrificing your life in another country,” she says. “When you are treated badly there, you have nowhere to run, you can’t run to your parents’ house, you can’t run to your friend’s house and there will be no one to console you because you are alone. But here, you have hope, you have love, you have family and you will grow, slowly but surely.”