Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

Ethiopia is set to repatriate approximately 70,000 of its nationals residing in Saudi Arabia, with the operation slated to commence in early April. State Minister Birtukan Ayano revealed that the repatriation initiative, the third of its kind since 2018, aims to assist Ethiopians facing challenging circumstances abroad.

The announcement, made last week by Minister Ayano, did not specify the legal status of the returnees in Saudi Arabia. However, the repatriation effort underscores Ethiopia’s commitment to supporting its citizens abroad, particularly those encountering difficulties.

Regional administrations within Ethiopia are tasked with ensuring the smooth resettlement of returnees in their respective native areas. The repatriation process will cover expenses such as flight tickets, temporary accommodation in transition centers in Addis Ababa, and financial assistance to facilitate the restart of their lives back home.

Ethiopia currently hosts a significant refugee population, with approximately 917,000 refugees from neighboring countries like Yemen seeking shelter within its borders. Additionally, the Ethiopian Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS) estimates that four million Ethiopians have been internally displaced due to conflicts and environmental challenges within the nation.

However, funding cuts have posed challenges for humanitarian operations supporting these vulnerable groups. On March 22, the RRS and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) convened stakeholders in Addis Ababa to address the reduction in funding for refugee operations in Ethiopia. The gathering aimed to garner support from partners and donors to meet the pressing needs of refugees and asylum seekers in the country.

The decision to repatriate Ethiopian nationals from Saudi Arabia follows a similar agreement reached in March 2022, involving the return of over 100,000 individuals. This move came amidst allegations of mistreatment of foreign laborers in Saudi Arabia, as reported by rights groups.