As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Ethiopia, and traffickers exploit victims from Ethiopia abroad. Traffickers exploit girls from Ethiopia’s impoverished rural areas in domestic servitude and sex trafficking within the country and boys in forced labor in traditional weaving, construction, agriculture, forced begging, and street vending. Brothel owners exploit girls in sex trafficking in Addis Ababa’s central market. Labor recruiters frequently target young people from Ethiopia’s vast rural areas with false promises of a better life in urban areas; increasingly, traffickers are replicating legitimate app-based recruitment tools to fraudulently recruit vulnerable populations and exploit them in forced labor. Local NGOs assess the number of internal trafficking victims, particularly children exploited in sex trafficking and domestic servitude, likely exceeds that of external trafficking. As of February 2022, an international organization reported there were more than 4.5 million IDPs in Ethiopia as a result of internal conflict and drought, a substantial increase compared with 1.5 million IDPs in the previous year. Individuals in resettlement camps or otherwise affected by internal conflict and drought are increasingly vulnerable to trafficking due to a lack of access to justice and economic opportunity.
Since November 2020, internal conflict in Ethiopia’s northern regions, including Tigray, Afar, and Amhara, has resulted in almost 60,000 Ethiopians seeking asylum in Sudan and other neighboring countries, where protection services are limited; this population is increasingly vulnerable to trafficking as displacement, food insecurity, and lack of economic opportunity persists. International organizations report armed actors, including Eritrean forces, regional forces, the ENDF, and the TPLF, have committed human rights abuses and GBV against women and girls in Tigray, including potential trafficking crimes. Observers report unspecified military personnel and other officials force women to have sex in exchange for basic commodities and humanitarian assistance. Unaccompanied children in conflict areas are vulnerable to unlawful recruitment or use by armed groups.
Trusted community members, known as manamasas, recruit and groom vulnerable youth on behalf of local and international human trafficking syndicates by exaggerating the advantages of working abroad. Scarce economic opportunities and poverty, coupled with familial encouragement, compel thousands of Ethiopians, including a substantial percentage of unmarried individuals younger than age 30, to transit out of Ethiopia via three main routes, where they are vulnerable to trafficking. Undocumented economic migrants primarily take the northeastern route, via Djibouti or Somalia, to Yemen and onward to Saudi Arabia and Europe. The southern route often involves individuals transiting through Kenya and onward to South Africa in hopes of finding work or to connect to onward flights. The northwestern route, the most dangerous and least common, has traditionally been taken by men through Sudan to Libya and onward to Europe; however, observers report an increase in women using this route to reach Khartoum, where they apply for and receive visas to Lebanon. Observers have not been able to discern how these women acquire visas or if the process is legitimate. Across all three of these migration routes, traffickers exploit Ethiopian migrants in sex trafficking or forced labor in transit countries and in their intended destinations. Families often finance irregular migration flows, and parents may force or coerce their children to go abroad. An international organization assesses most traffickers are small local operators, often from the victims’ own communities, but well-structured, hierarchical, organized crime groups also facilitate irregular migration flows and likely exploit individuals in forced labor or sex trafficking. International organizations report the number of Ethiopian returnees continues to significantly increase due to pandemic- related economic impacts; more than 155,000 Ethiopians returned in 2021, many of whom likely faced increased trafficking vulnerabilities in their destination country, along their route, and once back in Ethiopia. Observers highlight concerns that officials subject detained Tigrayan returnees, who represented approximately 40 percent of all returnees in 2021, to abuse, forced disappearance, and forced labor upon their return to Ethiopia.
Saudi Arabia remains the primary destination for economic migrants, representing 80-90 percent of Ethiopian labor migration; observers report approximately 400,000-500,000 Ethiopians reside there without valid travel documentation, which increases their vulnerability to traffickers exploiting them in forced labor or sex trafficking. Some Ethiopians arrive in Saudi Arabia through licensed Ethiopian employment agencies but are susceptible to trafficking by employers or illegal employment agencies. The visa sponsorship system—common in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE—binds domestic workers to one employer and prevents their freedom of movement. Some families in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle Eastern countries exploit Ethiopian women working in domestic service and subject them to physical and emotional abuse. Ethiopian women who migrate for work or flee abusive employers in the Middle East are also vulnerable to sex trafficking. Ethiopian men and boys migrate to Gulf states and other African nations, where traffickers exploit some in forced labor. As a result of the pandemic, Ethiopians abroad—especially in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia—face increased stigmatization and abuse, leading to loss of employment and potential deportation. In Lebanon, employers forcibly removed Ethiopian domestic workers from their homes, leaving them trapped in the country due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, border closures, and economic scarcity; unable to find new work or a safe way home, these individuals are increasingly vulnerable to trafficking. Thousands of Ethiopians—including domestic workers and migrant laborers who lost their employment due to the pandemic, and migrants pushed out by Houthi attacks in Yemen— faced increasing vulnerabilities to trafficking after being placed in abusive detention centers in southern Saudi Arabia. Traffickers exploit Ethiopian girls in domestic servitude and sex trafficking in neighboring African countries, particularly Djibouti and Sudan. Traffickers exploit Ethiopian boys in forced labor in Djibouti as shop assistants, domestic workers, and street beggars, in addition to forcing children to take part in criminal activities. Traffickers exploit Ethiopian women and children in forced begging, sometimes via organized begging rings, in Saudi Arabia. Traffickers exploit Ethiopian woman in forced labor in the hotel industry in Romania.
Ethiopia hosts more than 840,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, the majority of whom are from South Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea. Refugees without education and economic opportunity and those further displaced by conflict are increasingly vulnerable to trafficking. Cuban medical professionals working in Ethiopia may have been forced to work by the Cuban government.