Migrant women’s health and safety: Why do Ethiopian women choose irregular migration to the Middle East for domestic work?

Document Type

Article (peer-reviewed)

Publication Date



Background: Low-wage labour migration is an increasing determinant of global health, associated with risks of exploitation, abuse, and unsafe conditions. Despite efforts to prevent irregular migration and initiatives to warn individuals of the risks of trafficking, many migrants still opt for irregular channels, particularly women seeking jobs as domestic workers. Ethiopia is one of the largest source countries for female migrants entering the domestic labour market in the Middle East. This qualitative study explored migration decision making by Ethiopian women traveling to the Middle East for domestic labour, focusing on the use of irregular channels. Methods: We conducted semistructured interviews with policy stakeholders, migration recruiters, and returnee domestic workers. Results: We identified three main themes that help explain decision making by female migrants and their communities. First, women were not always clear whether they were using legally approved processes, particularly because of the range of individuals involved in arranging migration plans. Second, irregular migration was seen to be quicker and easier than regular migration procedures. Third, study participants believed the risks between irregular and regular migration were similar. Conclusion: Our study highlights challenges associated with antitrafficking initiatives that discourage irregular migration and suggests new perspectives to address the health risks linked to labour migration.