Between Hope and Hardship:

Experiences of Ethiopian Domestic Workers in the Middle East

+ Meredith Dank

Executive Summary

This exploratory study sets out to understand the decision-making, migration patterns, employment experiences, social networks and help-seeking behaviours among Ethiopian migrant domestic workers (MDWs) in three Middle Eastern countries: Lebanon, Kuwait, and Jordan.

Through individual and group interviews, as well as field observations, we sought to understand:

1. What personal and structural vulnerabilities put Ethiopian domestic workers at risk of labour trafficking in the Middle East?

2. What are the experiences of Ethiopian women who have encountered labour trafficking in the Middle East? How do regional policies and practices affect the help-seeking behaviour of labour-trafficking survivors?

3. How do Ethiopian domestic workers travel through various migration routes as well as establish and maintain communication with families and friends?


To address the challenges faced by Ethiopian migrants, particularly domestic workers, several key actions are necessary:


- Expanding the Ministry of Labor and Skills’ branches into rural areas is crucial to provide accessible information and services for prospective migrants, lowering the barrier to formal migration.

- Training in financial literacy before departure can empower women to manage their income effectively, ensuring they can make informed decisions about remittances and savings.

- Informal pre-departure information sessions can better prepare women for the realities of working abroad, including understanding destination-specific challenges and basic skills.

- Planning ahead for emergencies, including social protection schemes and insurance, could support migrants in leaving abusive situations and facilitate their safe return.


- Establishing migrant worker helpdesks within Ethiopian Embassies, staffed by NGOs, can offer critical support to migrants who are suffering abuse.

- Strengthening oversight of recruitment agencies and ensuring adherence to protective standards are imperative for safeguarding migrant rights.

- Additionally, enhancing post-arrival orientation to include rights awareness, financial lit- eracy, and familiarisation with local customs and laws can significantly improve migrants’ experiences and outcomes.

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Meredith Dank, Ph.D., is a Clinical Associate Professor and directs the Human Exploitation and Resilience program of the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management.

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