February 3, 2005
ARTICLE: Ethiopians scammed by World Cup job promises
Taking a break from Bob, here is article I wrote about a new scam to trick Ethiopians into risking their lives and life savings in exchange for non-existent jobs connected to South Africa's 2010 World Cup.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) -- Abraham Taddesse quit his mechanic job and sold everything he had for a trip to South Africa, where he was told a lucrative job was waiting for him in the build-up to the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament.
Instead, over the next five months, conmen stripped him of life savings before abandoning him far short of South Africa -- starving and penniless in a roofless shack in Mozambique.
Officials believe Abraham was among hundreds of young men duped by criminals who prey on those desperate to escape Ethiopia's poverty. The bait is the promise of high-paying jobs helping prepare for the World Cup tournament that will be held in South Africa in 2010.
"There is poverty here so people are keen to leave and find work," said Yitna Getachew of the International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental group which often works closely with the U.N. on immigration and refugee issues. "In this case these traffickers are offering work in the construction and engineering industry linked to this major sporting event."
The group has evidence of Ethiopians being caught up in the scam. It is contacting its other offices, suspicious that people from other African nations could be affected, Yitna said.
A spokesman from Ethiopia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that a joint committee had been set up with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Immigration to look into the problem. The committee was to consider what legal action could be taken and what could be done to warn the public, the official said.
More than 80 percent Ethiopia's estimated 70 million people live on less than a dollar a day -- with per capita income among the lowest in the world at about US $95(euro73) a year.
On the sidewalks of Ethiopia's bustling towns and cities beggars and shoeshine boys compete for the attention of passers-by. Many have come from the countryside, where some 2.2 million people will need food aid this year.
Abraham was in a barber shop in the capital, Addis Ababa, when he overheard a man talking about hundreds of high-paying jobs in South Africa ahead of the World Cup, the world's premier soccer tournament.
Desperate to shed the uncertainties of poverty, he sold everything he had a week later and made his first payment of 6,000 birr (US$697, euro535) to a man who promised to take him by road through Ethiopia, across neighboring Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and into South Africa.
"The offer of earning US$2,000 (euro1,535) a month was just too tempting," Abraham, 24, said. "I was a young man with a big dream."
The overheard conversation, however, had been staged, officials believe.
"He was very professionally recruited," said Asefach Haile Selassie, a counselor for the International Organization for Migration.
The man in the barber shop put Abraham in touch with a purported broker and 16 other men eager to take the trip. They left Addis Ababa in a bus in July last year, reaching the Kenyan border two days later.
"The broker asked us to pay him another 6,000 birr (US$697, euro535). We were worried and were asking why he needed the money. But he just collected our passports," Abraham said.
After a four day wait they crossed the border and met another Ethiopian "broker" in Kenya.
Over the next two months they traveled across Kenya and sneaked across the border into Tanzania, traveling on foot and by truck -- escorted by Ethiopians and Somalis. They were stopped more than 10 times along the way by men claiming to be police. Each time they had to hand over money, Abraham said.
At one stage the group was divided into pairs to be led through the Tanzanian bush. By the end of the day, Abraham realized that one person was missing. Abraham said he was told the man "had collapsed and been killed by hyenas, and that if I didn't obey I could also have the same thing happen to me."
Three months after setting off, they were taken to a roofless house somewhere in Mozambique and abandoned, Abraham said, adding that all of his 13,000 birr (US$1,512, euro1,161) life savings was gone.
Abraham said that he eventually left the house and walked to a nearby village mosque where one of the worshippers paid for a bus ticket to Kenya. In Kenya, a church paid for his bus fare to Ethiopia.
"Since my return I have tried to save some people, to stop them giving their money to brokers," Abraham said, adding that as far as he knows, he was the only one in his group to return.
Posted by aheavens at February 3, 2005 3:56 AM