By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
December 3, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) - The United Nations’ Refugee Agency on Tuesday announced that it has contributed $100,000 to support tens of thousands of Ethiopians returning from Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia recently launched a crackdown against illegal immigrants, leading to some 23,000 Ethiopians surrendering to the police. Ethiopia originally projected that they would have to repatriate some 30,000 undocumented citizens but officials say that 70,000 have already returned.
Flights between Saudi Arabia and Addis Ababa have increased from six to twelve a day to keep up with demand at an estimated cost of around $25 million.
The UNHCR funds will support the Ethiopian government’s mass evacuation efforts in collaboration with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and for the rehabilitation of the returnees.
"The items include 10,000 blankets, 15,000 packs of sanitary pads, 30,000 bars of soap as well as an ambulance for use by IOM in the response effort" said Kisut Gebre Egziabher, UNHCR’s senior public information associate.
UNHCR representative, Moses Okello, handed over the items to Mitiku Kassa, State Minister of Agriculture, who is responsible for disaster risk management and food security.
At the handing over occasion Okello said that although UNHCR’s responsibility mainly focuses on refugees - people who have been forced by circumstances to leave their countries and seek asylum in another country - his office cannot standby and look on when Ethiopia is experiencing an emergency.
The Ethiopian government acknowledged the UN refugee agency’s support and lauded it as "important humanitarian gesture".
The handing over was witnessed by Josiah Ogina, the IOM’s chief of mission in Ethiopia, as well as government officials and diplomats.
Gebre Egziabher, told Sudan Tribune that the UNHCR has also contributed 500,000 birr i(over $26,000) to support to Ethiopia’s media campaign aimed to raise awareness about the dangers of human trafficking and irregular migration.
The official said the Ethiopian government was working with the UNHCR and IOM to educate the public and refugees on illegal migration awareness.
Recently the US government criticised international aid organisations for doing little to assist Ethiopians being deported from Saudi Arabia.
The UNHCR aid to Ethiopian returnees came as the number of returnees’ exceeds government’s initial projections of repatriating around 30,000 citizens.
According to Ethiopia’s ministry of foreign affairs, the number of illegal Ethiopian migrants who have returned home since the mass repatriation operation was launched on 13 November has reached nearly 80,000.