Ethiopia has brought home in the past month more than 120-thousand migrant workers from Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities have ordered undocumented workers to leave the country. An airlift continues to return many more Ethiopian migrants.
The International Organization for Migration is assisting the migrants once they return home. Spokesperson Christiane Berthiaume says the airlift and repatriation have grown a lot bigger than originally expected.
"At the beginning in November, the Ethiopian government asked IOM to help 30,000 migrants. That was the figure they were expecting that people will come back, but since then the figures have been skyrocketing." She said that many more will arrive soon.
"The government tells us that they are expecting another 35,000 and probably more. Because nobody really knows how many Ethiopian migrants, undocumented, are in Saudi Arabia and facing expulsion," she said.
The operation has been called one of the biggest human airlifts in recent history. The Ethiopian government sends daily chartered flights to Saudi Arabia.
Berthiaume said, "When they arrive in Ethiopia we're there. We're helping them, transporting them. We're giving them medical assistance. We are also giving them some pyscho-social first aid. We give them meals, water, high energy biscuits. We give those who arrive at night temporary accommodation. And also we do transport them to their places of origin and give them a little bit [of] money. Help them to reintegrate."
Berthiaume added that the IOM has also provided support to 160 unaccompanied minors.
It estimated there are about 9-million migrant workers in Saudi Arabia - two million of whom are not documented and there illegally.
The return of so many Ethiopian and other migrants to their home countries means a big loss in remittances. So, the Saudi action may have long-term economic consequences for many families.
The International Organization for Migration said it needs
11-and-a-half-million dollars to fund the repatriation operation. It says it has received some donations, but not nearly enough to pay for all that's needed.