MSF Provides Medical and Psychosocial Care to Returnees in Ethiopia


Following the decision of the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to deport “illegal” foreign workers, 154,837 Ethiopian men, women, and children have already arrived at Bole Airport carrying whatever they managed to salvage in sacks, cardboard boxes, and suitcases. They are returning home, either by force or voluntarily. All of them have come from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), where they lived and worked in all manner of jobs, such as domestic workers or nurses. Some were born there while others left Ethiopia when they were very young.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and other partners have been working in the reception centers since the repatriation \ began in mid-November 2013. MSF is providing maternal and child health services, along with much-needed psychological care. 

“Immediate medical attention is vital at these reception points, as there are many people that need life-saving medical assistance: some women are going into labour on arrival, while others are in their last trimester of pregnancy with complications that need immediate attention,” explains Dr. Jean François Saint-Sauveur, MSF’s medical coordinator in Ethiopia. “We are vaccinating unaccompanied minors against measles and polio, offering psychological counseling to men, women, and children of all ages, and referring critical cases to various hospitals in Addis Ababa.”

In the past four weeks alone, MSF medical teams have conducted 160 maternal and child health sessions fore more than 18,128 patients. Sambera*, a 22-year-old man, reached Saudi Arabia after suffering abuse at the hands of many different people including human traffickers in Yemen. (MSF is also providing medical assistance to migrants in detention centers in Yemen, most of whom are Ethiopians.) He was detained at the Yemeni border, where he managed to bribe his way into Saudi Arabia. “Even after my arrival to Saudi Arabia, I did not get the opportunity to work and earn money to help my poor family in Ethiopia; instead, I was imprisoned, beaten up, and then deported back home,” says Sambera. 

He and many others, like 15-year-old Yelem*, have been undergoing individual counseling sessions offered by MSF. On arrival, Yelem was confused, aggressive, disoriented, and alternately smiling and crying. She went to Saudi Arabia when she was only 10 years old and says families she worked for often abused her and refused to pay her. MSF psychologists referred her to the Emanuel Hospital to obtain specialized medical and psychological treatment. 

“Most of the returnees that we are attending are suffering from major depression, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), acute stress, generalized anxiety, and dissociative and psychotic syndromes,” says Angelica Kokutona Wagwa, an MSF psychologist in Ethiopia. “Most of the returnees are aged between 18 and 36 years and there is a need therefore to give them hope for the future by ensuring that they continue to receive psychosocial counseling to help them resettle well in their communities,” she adds.

Most of the returnees have sad stories to tell. MSF, together with other partners like the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ethiopian authorities, continues to offer assistance to this vulnerable group of people to improve their situation until they are reunited with their families.

*Patient names changed to protect anonymity

MSF has worked in Ethiopia continually since 1984, carrying out a variety of medical and nutritional interventions throughout the country.

MSF teams attending to returnees at Bole Airport in Addis Ababa