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Saturday, 09-September-2006
PANA - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 09/09 - "Enough is enough; I can no longer endure poverty in this country. God willing, I should make a fast turnaround for the rest of my life if I land a job in Dubai," said Alem Tessema, 24, standing in a queue of job seekers at a recruitment agency in Addis Ababa.

A primary school dropout, Alem has been working as a domestic in the Ethiopian capital for the past nine years, earning about $30 a month.

"For all this time I have made no progress from the starting point. Sometimes I cry because my poor mother and my young brother who is in school depend on me and I fail to support them," she told PANA.

After a few weeks of waiting, Alem`s name joined the statistics of Ethiopian young women working as domestics in the Middle East countries -- mainly Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Yemen -- for monthly wages of about $200, a vault over the average GDP per capita of $130 in their home country.

But landing such a job across the Red Sea starts with outrageous extortion by recruitment agents who demand a fee of about $1,000 per head in order to firm up contracts with employers.

Sometimes, the contracts include penalties should workers abandon jobs prematurely, one reason why many remain in abusive situations.

Officials at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) office in Addis Ababa say tens of thousands of Ethiopian women are also trafficked every year to the Middle East to work in night-clubs and as prostitutes.

Migration patterns in Africa, according to OIM, differ from region to region. Probably due to proximity, migrants from West Africa tend to head to Europe and those from the East find the Middle East and Gulf countries as easy destinations.

"In the past migration flows used to be on colonial patterns, but now that has changed," said Charles Kwenin, IOM representative in Ethiopia.

Growing interdependence between countries, coupled with widening inequalities, has led to the intensification of international movements.

"Within Africa there is more migration than to developed countries," Kwenin explained, citing South Africa and Botswana as receiving countries of migrants because of their relatively high levels of economic development.

Historically, labor migration has been a major socio-economic issue in Africa, but today the continent`s policymakers admit that it is becoming an acute problem.

It`s not the number but the growing feminization of migrants that is raising concern in the midst of human rights violations, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and disregard of the economic contribution by migrant women in foreign as well as their home countries.

In the context of globalization, and as a result of unequal opportunities, forced and irregular migration, women migrants often find themselves between a rock and a hard place, argues Fama Hane Ba, Africa regional director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

Despite their invisible contribution in energizing the economies of both receiving and sending countries, Fama also notes that migrant women have been ignored in immigration policies.

African labor migrants are currently estimated at 20 million, about a fifth of the global figure, with swelling ranks of young and middle-aged women who trek out of their countries in search of economic independence or better employment opportunities.

According to the African Union (AU) `s Commissioner for Social Affairs, Bience Gawanas, women already account for half of the continent`s migrants.

"This calls for a review in the way we manage migration because women have special gender and reproductive health needs," Gawanas said Wednesday at the AU/UNFPA joint launch of The State of the World Population Report 2006 in Addis Ababa.

The report underscores the fact that migrant women experience double discrimination as migrants and as women.

With the obvious difficulty to document irregular migrants, Africa faces the spectre of widespread diseases that could make the provision of social services both to migrants and local communities unmanageable.

As UNFPA points out in its report, the link between population mobility and HIV constitutes one of the most poorly understood and overlooked factors behind the rapid spread of AIDS in southern Africa.

At the back of HIV, tuberculosis is already rampaging people in home areas of migrant laborers in the region.

It would be disastrous to Africa, if migrant workers were infected with drug resistant TB strains that are virtually untreatable.

This week the World Health Organization (WHO) expressed concern over the emergence of a virulent drug-resistant XDR-TB strain that could devastate the continent.

As Gawanas noted, the future outlook of migration in Africa is still gloomy. But, policymakers could give it a glimmer of hope if its management is taken with serious consideration of factors that affect the survival of people, including health

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