The first-ever centre to help victims of trafficking opened in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Tuesday. It will offer support to the estimated 40,000 women and girls believed to be victims of trafficking, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
"This centre is the first of its kind, and covers rehabilitation and reintegration for victims of trafficking," Rakeb Messele of the IOM's anti-trafficking unit told IRIN. "Ethiopia is a source country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced and domestic labour," she added.
The women will be offered shelter, medical assistance and psychosocial counselling at the US $412,000 centre, which was funded by the US Agency for International Development.
"The victims have suffered quite a lot of abuse," said Rakeb, the centre's programme coordinator. "Often when they return they are traumatised, depressed, and some have mental-health problems and need someplace to stay. Some of those who are deported have not even had time to gather their possessions and don’t have anything, so they need some reintegration assistance."
Rakeb said that in the absence of such support the women would often try and go abroad again. "This is in a way to prevent re-trafficking of the women themselves, because they are extremely vulnerable," she said.
The Meraf (Amharic for New Chapter) Centre, which will accommodate up to 12 victims of trafficking at a time, is run by a local NGO, the Good Samaritan Association.
Rakeb said the centre had been established due to the large numbers of women returning to Ethiopia – either having been deported or choosing to return home. Very few organisations, she added, were offering support to victims of trafficking despite the large numbers involved. Internal trafficking was also rife, she said, whereby girls were lured from rural areas into the capital, and often ended up on the streets or were forced into prostitution.
According to the IOM, traffickers who prey on girls in Ethiopia expect to earn around 7,000 Ethiopian birr (more than US $800) for each victim they send overseas. Thousands of teenaged girls are shipped out of the country each year to the Middle East, especially to Lebanon, where it is estimated that 1,000 Ethiopian girls are recruited monthly in the capital, Beirut.
The IOM says girls aged between 18 and 25 are mainly targeted by traffickers at colleges and working in poor districts in towns and cities.
Trafficking is also a global phenomenon, often orchestrated by criminal gangs. Traffickers, says the IOM, annually entice between 700,000 and four million people worldwide by way of fraud, kidnapping or other forms of coercion. Girls in particular are lured with promises of wages in excess of $200 a month which, in the context of the average of $100 a year in Ethiopia, seems like fortune.
To tackle the huge problem of trafficking, the IOM has launched a new strategy, whereby schoolgirls are being warned using radio and other media, against the dangers of falling into the hands of traffickers.