Summary of 3rd Annual International Conference of Ethiopian Women in the Diaspora
Held on March 22, 2014
Silver Spring Sheraton, Silver Spring, Maryland
The program started with CREW member, Hiwote Mekonnen, introducing the objectives of the conference and introducing Dr. Maigenet Shiferraw, President of CREW. Dr. Maigent gave a brief preview of the short history of CREW and outlined the theme of the conference. Dr. Maigenet thanked the sponsors of the Conference: Tadias Magazne, Tsehay Publishers, ESAT Television & Radio, Sankofa Café and Gebeta Restaurant.
The opening speaker, Chereace Richards. is a successful business woman and a motivational speaker. She is the author of Faith, Focus, Action: The Journey to Becoming Who you are. Chereace captured the mission and vision of CREW and spoke on how members of CREW should focus and take actions to fulfill their dreams.
The first session was moderated by CREW member, Tizita Belachew. Drs. Minga Negash and Seid Hassan spoke via Skype from Colorado and Kentucky, respectively. Dr. Minga Negash and Dr. Seid Hassan’s presentation was very educational. Their presentation set the framework for the conference by explaining the push and pull factors of migration in general and Ethiopian outmigration in particular. The third speaker on the same session was Tadella Fanta, gender specialist and member of CREW. Tadella has done research in Yemen and Sudan about migrant workers. She spoke on the gendered nature of migration.
The second session was on the current situation of Ethiopian women migrant workers in the Middle East and the returnees from Saudi Arabia. The moderator was Dr. Menna Demissie, senior policy analyst for Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. The speakers were Dagmawi Yimer, a film maker; Jomo Tariku, a designer and who works at the World Bank; researcher, Helen Afework, and CREW member Genet Derbe, a social worker.
A clip of Dagmawi’s, film titled “Like a Man on Earth,” a moving story of Ethiopian migrant workers in Libya was shown. After the showing of the clip, Dagmawi spoke about his personal journey and experience in Libya. Jomo’s presentation was on using the digital/social media to do effective advocacy work. Jomo created a website in 2012 after learning what had happened to Alem Dechasa in Beirut . The website is designed to document the number of Ethiopian migrant workers and their conditions in the Gulf countries.
Helen Afework, a young researcher and a graduate student at the European Masters in Migration Studies in Germany was the next speaker. Helen is currently in New York on a fellowship program at the National Domestic Workers Association to study domestic workers in the United States. Her extensive work on domestic workers in the Middle East gave a clear depiction of the condition of migrant workers in the Middle East. Helen Afework is a recipient of the 2014 CREW scholarship. Amsale Aberra a young scholar from the University of Washington was the 2013 CREW scholarship recipient.
The last presenter for the second session was CREW’s treasurer and project manager of CREW’s pilot program, Genet Derebe. CREW has started a pilot program with a non-governmental organization, Integrated Family services Organization (IFSO), to settle four returnees from Saudi Arabia. A video of the project was shown. The pilot project was sponsored by the donation CREW received from ESFNA at their 30th annual soccer game in Washington, DC. As more Ethiopians are and will be repatriated from different parts of the world, both IFSO and CREW are willing and hopeful to continue this project to serve more returnees with the support of Ethiopians in the Diaspora.
The third session was moderated by CREW’s member, Aleme Feyisa, a social worker. The session was on conflict transformation. Solomon Tilahun, a specialist in conflict resolution, was the presenter. This was Solomon’s second time to present at CREW’s meetings. Solomon’s presentation was excellent. The presentation focused on the culture of tolerance, dialogue, and conflict transformation.
The last session was very powerful with all the young researchers and presenters together on the same panel.
The first presenter at the last session was Pastor Mekibeb Tilahun who is living and helping Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia. He discussed the current situation of Ethiopians in Saudi prisons. The second presenter was Rima Kalush a senior researcher at Migrant-workers.org, a Bahrain-based organization. She participated via Skype from California. Dr. Menna Demissie was the third presenter and spoke on networking with other community organizations and advocacy.
After the last presentation the floor was opened for Q&A and it allowed excellent participation by the audience. Recommendations were given by the participants.
Recommendation by conference presenters and participants:
- The Ethiopian government needs to recognize the current cross border migration situation from the country as a “Crisis” in order to be able to respond accordingly.
- The Ethiopian government needs to adopt clear policy and legal framework that responds to the current migration crisis in par with the international laws and principles.
- Interventions to alleviate the plight of migrant workers should be carefully designed to avoid perpetual farming of Ethiopian migrants as helpless victims.
- There is a need to see beyond CREW’s organizational capacity and start to network with other societal groups, such as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Protestant churches and the Ethiopian Mosques.
- Engaging the US Congress, Congressional Black Caucus and Hilary Clinton at Clinton foundation on the issues with the aim of having congressional hearing on the plight of Ethiopian migrant women in the Middle East.
- Set up a task force entrusted with the responsibility to follow-up with recommended actions
Special Recommendations by Drs. Minga Negash and Seid Hassan
(These recommendations are obtained directly from commentaries on outmigration written by Professor Minga and Professor Hassan. They were the main speakers at the conference on the push/pull factors of migration in general and Ethiopian outmigration in particular and they discussed the following recommendations in their speech)
- Outmigration requires reforming the [Ethiopian] Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Labor. Like other nations, Ethiopia, on behalf of its citizens, needs to promote cooperation and negotiate minimum labor standards in host countries.
- It [the government of Ethiopia] must push migrant recipient countries the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families (ICRMW), one of the core international human rights treaties.
- For immigrants who go to specific destinations, the government can create incentives for minimum level of skills certifications. It needs to provide coping mechanisms and establish a desk in the embassies for handling physical, emotional and sexual abuses and cultural prejudices faced by immigrants, in general, and women in particular. The remittance obtained from destination countries could justify the additional costs of providing the above services.
- The country [ Ethiopia] must be able to pass and implement effective regulation against “agents” and human smugglers. The government also needs to re-examine the de facto policy of using remittances (i.e. exporting people) as developmental instrument, for the macroeconomic effects are ambiguous at best
- Unlike out-migrants of other countries, Ethiopian out-migrants seem to have failed to pay attention to the ongoing politics of their respective destination countries. The use of immigrants as political punch bags by the Saudi authorities could have been minimized if Ethiopian migrants were paying attention to the upcoming of large scale and politically-motivated deportations
- Finally, Ethiopian immigrants must take lessons from the recent deportations and establish strong centers in their respective destination countries and create a global network that supports the community in times of crisis.
Specific Recommendations from the audience
- Organize solidarity march in the USA with the migrant workers in Beirut who held such a rallies every year to popularize the cause
- Adopt a strategy of appealing to the oppressor: pleading to the “Madams” in the ME countries who themselves are victims of oppressive culture to stop abusing their fellow women
Special thank you to Kumera Genet, an activist and a columinist for the Huffington Post. Kebadu Belachew,Matt Andrea, Konjit Taye of VOA, Alem Fekade of Netsanet LeEthiopia radio, Abebe Belew of Addis Dimit radio and ECADFForum website. Thank you to all the speakers for the excellent and educational presentations. Thank you to the moderators for an excellent job in facilitating the panels. A very special thank you to all the participants who made the 3rd Annual Conference of Ethiopian Women in the Diaspora a success. We hope to see you all at CREW’s next event.