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Hundreds of Ethiopians arrive back from Saudi Arabia

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Addis Ababa: Nine hundred returnees arrived at Addis Ababa International Airport, UN’s migration agency says, adding Riyadh has over the last four years returned “nearly 352,000 Ethiopians back home.”

Around 900 returnees, including many mothers with young children, landed at Addis Ababa International Airport throughout the day, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Wednesday.

Hundreds of Ethiopians have arrived back in Addis Ababa, the first contingent of some 100,000 nationals to be repatriated from Saudi Arabia over the coming months.

“It is estimated that about 750,000 Ethiopians currently reside in Saudi Arabia with about 450,000 likely to have traveled to the country through irregular means and will need help to return home,” the IOM said in a statement.

Human rights organizations have for several years denounced the detention conditions of Ethiopian migrants in Saudi Arabia.

Most of the women returnees were dressed in black abaya robes, traditional in Saudi Arabia, some covered their faces with a piece of cloth.

Many were carrying babies on their backs or holding children by the hand, with their meager belongings crammed into plastic bags as they queued up to be registered after they got off the plane.

“We are back,” said Medina, a 28-year-old woman who was among those coming off the plane.

The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry has said it will repatriate about 100,000 of its citizens from Saudi Arabia over the next seven to 11 months, under an agreement recently signed between the two countries.

Wednesday’s returnees “were assisted and registered by IOM staff and offered, among others, food, temporary accommodation, medical help, and counseling services,” the UN migration agency said in its statement.

“These are our citizens,” said Hana Yeshingus, a representative of the Ethiopian Ministry of Women and Children.

“Our citizens have come back home” after going through a very painful time, she added.

The IOM stressed that “meeting the needs of the 100,000 returnees is going to be an enormous challenge for the government, IOM, and partners”.

Over the last four years Saudi Arabia “has returned nearly 352,000 Ethiopians back home,” it added.

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