After being expelled from Middle Eastern and other African countries, thousands of Ethiopian migrants are quarantined in universities across Ethiopia, a sign of the strain placed on vulnerable nations by mass deportations amid the coronavirus crisis.
Health minister Lia Tadesse said Ethiopia was providing for the migrants and acknowledged concerns about spreading the virus to villages by sending them home.
So far, 13 of the quarantined migrants have tested positive for COVID-19 and is being taken care of by the Ethiopian government.
“We are taking care of them and will continue to take care of them although, of course, it’s demanding in many aspects,” Tadesse told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
More than 5,000 illegal migrants were expelled from Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Somalia and other countries in recent weeks, according to the UN migration agency.
The UN has warned that mass expulsions of illegal migrants by Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia risks spreading the virus and overwhelming quarantine efforts.
An internal UN memo seen by Reuters said Saudi Arabia was expected to deport some 200,000 Ethiopian migrants in total.
Tadesse said that no migrants had been deported by Riyadh in the past week.
Ethiopia, which has around 110 million people, has only recorded 133 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and three deaths but experts say its public health system could swiftly be overwhelmed.
Tens of thousands of Ethiopians are estimated to migrate illegally every year in search of better-paid work, mainly to Gulf Arab nations, where many end up exploited in homes as maids or on building sites.
Many of those now returning endured trauma and require medical attention. Tadesse said that medics and therapists were offering support.
Last month, a UN source told the Thomson Reuters Foundation hundreds of migrants who had recently returned from Djibouti were turned back by regional authorities after undergoing quarantine in the eastern city of Dire Dawa.
“There were some concerns among the regional governments about the quarantined returnees … but this is now being handled through education and regional leadership,” Tadesse said.
After being quarantined for 14 days, over 1,000 migrants were sent home this week after testing negative for the virus, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
“There has always been the fear that migrants are purveyors of disease, but the evidence does not bear this out at all,” said Maureen Achieng, IOM’s chief of mission to Ethiopia, adding the agency was trying to combat stigma surrounding coronavirus in the region.
“We are trying to ensure that … people begin to dissociate the disease from migrants.” (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)