MORE than 100 cases of alleged abuse of Ethiopians in Bahrain during the past 12 months have prompted calls for Addis Ababa to open an embassy in Bahrain.
Physical and sexual abuse, as well as non-payment of wages, were among allegations reported in 2016 to the non-official head of the Ethiopian community in Bahrain, Esky Dubois.
However, she said the absence of an Ethiopian Embassy here meant victims suffered from a lack of official representation.
“The number of cases that we know of is estimated at more than 100 this year, which included physical and sexual assaults and non-payment of wages,” Ms Dubois told the GDN.
“Cases of unpaid wages are typical, while assaults and rape attempts are also recorded.
“Mostly cases are resolved by community volunteers and we are notified about them by police stations, shelters, hospitals and a few others.
“As a community representative I work closely with the shelters, deal with officials and I have no disappointments.
“They co-operate well with us and it has been a fair deal, but the problem remains with individual employers.
“Unfortunately, the number of cases is not coming down.”
Ethiopia’s embassy in Kuwait is currently responsible for the consular affairs of its citizens in Bahrain.
However, Ms Dubois said she was concerned more victims of mistreatment were not seeking help because they had no embassy in Bahrain to turn to.
“An embassy for the community will make a big difference, mainly in cases being exposed or reported,” said Ms Dubois, who is also Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS) action committee head.
“We have asked our government for this and we hope they will look into this favourably.
“Although we are working very closely with the Ethiopian Embassy based in Kuwait, the situation now is that there are many employers who take advantage of the fact that their Ethiopian employees think there is no embassy to report to.
“I have had cases of rape victims who were openly told by employers or manpower agencies that they have no place to go and complain, which is taking advantage of their vulnerable situation and forgetting there is law in Bahrain.
“As a result they (the victims) are behind bars.”
She highlighted the benefits of government-to-government interaction that comes through having an embassy, something that volunteers are not able to achieve.
In addition, she said it would allow official systems to be established that would benefit both employers and employees. “Even the employers will have a legal way to raise their concerns.”.
There are currently five Ethiopian women at MWPS shelters, two of them allegedly victims of attempted rape while the other three claim they were not paid by their employers.
Since the start of the year 47 women have been provided shelter in total.
“There should be a system where employers fear the law, which I feel helps even the employer,” said Ms Dubois.
“Whenever we get cases, mainly female domestic workers, we find they have been treated inhumanely.
“Employees are human too and they need rest, sleep and a happy healthy life to serve their employers better – which the latter often seem to forget.”
Meanwhile, Ms Dubois highlighted the recruitment of underage girls from Ethiopia – pointing the finger at rogue agents who placed them in jobs in Bahrain.
“We have cases of underage girls coming to Bahrain as domestic aid, but they are unskilled and from the suburbs – and definitely not suitable for employers’ demands,” she said.
“This is a situation our (Ethiopian) government needs to address by taking action against middlemen, as the receiving country has nothing to do with this.
“But it is not an excuse for not paying them (for work in Bahrain), which is sometimes the case.
“I would also call for official recruitment agents in Ethiopia to deal with their counterparts here, which will help streamline the system.
“But I am glad our government is soon opening a training centre in Ethiopia to train people travelling abroad for jobs.”