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Ethiopia: A little light for returnees from Saudi Arabia

25-04-2014 Feature

Thousands of Ethiopian nationals returning from Saudi Arabia had the opportunity to re-establish contact with their families thanks to a free phone service set up by the ICRC and the Ethiopian Red Cross Society.

An Ethiopian returnee from Saudi Arabia makes a free phone call to contact her family after arriving in Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. © ERCS 

“There is nothing more comforting for separated families than hearing the voices of their loved ones. It heals the pain of separation,” said Mulugeta Jaleta, who runs the Ethiopian Red Cross Society’s family links programme.

In November and December last year, around 24,000 Ethiopians returning from Saudi Arabia were sheltered in five temporary sites set up in Addis Ababa. “The phone service we provided helped returnees let their families know that they had arrived home safely,” added Mr Jaleta.

One of the beneficiaries, Mohammed Idris, whose parents live in a remote area of Arsi Zone in Oromia region, said, “My mom breathed a sigh of relief when she heard I was alive. Thanks to the Red Cross, I made the call at the right time when my mom was frantic with worry because of the sudden loss of contact.”

Mohammed’s mother had refused to eat and was unable to sleep for days after she heard the news of the hardships facing returnees following Saudi Arabia’s decision to send foreign migrants back to their places of origin.

Easing the suffering

Another beneficiary, Zein Yimam, said she was feeling better after talking to both her father and mother, who live in North Wollo Zone about 430 kilometres north of Addis Ababa. “I was so happy to be able talk to my father and mother, who were very worried by what was happening,” she said.

“Most of the returnees didn’t have mobile phone or access to a regular phone service at the temporary shelters, and thus had no means of letting their families know their whereabouts,” said Mr Jaleta, adding, “In all, the returnees made around 15,000 domestic and 9,000 international phone calls, enabling them to restore and maintain contacts with their families and loved ones both at home and in Saudi Arabia.

“The provision of the phone call service significantly eased the psychological suffering of the families of the returnees,” remarked Saira Gulzar, an ICRC delegate who participated in the operation.

Refugees sheltered in Ethiopia and other separated families also benefited from this service. In 2013, the ICRC and Ethiopian Red Cross Society jointly facilitated over 12,000 phone calls for refugees – mainly Sudanese and South Sudanese nationals – in Ethiopia, enabling them to get in touch with their families in their respective home countries.

Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. An Ethiopian returnee from Saudi Arabia makes a free phone call to contact his family with the help of an Ethiopian Red Cross Society volunteer. © ERCS