There are reports of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian women working in the Middle East, and stories of dangerous travel across the continent of those trying to reach South Africa. However, little is known about the actual trends, policies, and pushes/pulls. A 2015 publication by the Ethiopian Forum for Social Studies addressed this topic in "Ethiopian Labour Migration to the Gulf and South Africa" by Asnake Kefale and Zerihun Mohammed. The publication is more akin to an extended essay than it is a book (101 pages), but is essential reading for those interested in the subject of legal or illegal migration from Ethiopia, within a space where limited amount of data are available.
Asnake and Zerihun attempt to "produce evidence-based knowledge on the social and economic impacts of labour migration by looking at the challenges and opportunities of Ethiopian labour migration to the Gulf and South Africa. On the one hand, international migration from Ethiopia could be considered an aspect of [a] development problem. The major push factors that force Ethiopian migrants to the Gulf and South Africa are economic/development problems ranging from lack of employment opportunities to wage differentials. On the other hand, international migration could be considered an an important resource that could be tapped for accelerating socio-economic development" (p. 7). Throughout, the authors attempt to present both of these stories - unlike reporting from advocates who present migration as a negative story, and also unlike those who advocate for greater migration as a means of expanding opportunities without considering the costs.
One of the key contributions of the book is the exploration of the gendered nature of migration, aligned with the work opportunities as well as the risks. Young Ethiopian women are moving in large number to the Middle East to be employed as domestic workers while the vast majority heading to South Africa, almost entirely illegally, are young men. The available data was also quite illuminating - one might assume the UAE is a key destination, but in fact after Saudi Arabia the largest destination for Ethiopian migrants (largely women), was Kuwait (p. 19-20).
The authors suggest that "international migration cannot be stopped. Even if receiving countries and sending countries put barriers, people will find different ways to pass the barrier and cross the borders" (p. 83-84). As a result, the authors provide pragmatic approaches in their recommendations: comprehensive labour migration policy, worker training, improved governance, improved data collection, coordination with receiving countries, enhancing legal migration options while preventing illegal forms. However, rather than supporting migrants, it it believed that the government needs to take a much more engaged and active from - from recruitment to return. One of their interviewees explained: "What the prospective migrant workers wanted was not only the government to provide them with training, but also to certify their abilities and help them in job placement and the in the receiving countries. When the trainees were told that the TVET colleges will only provide training, but not be involved in job placement, the majority of the trainees left the program" (p. 87).