“I lost my ability to walk but I found hope” – Ethiopia
Addis Ababa, July 25, 2022 – Abi* was just 17 when he left Mesala, a small town some 400 kilometers from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in hopes of a better life in Yemen.
“Three years ago, I left Ethiopia after hearing about a ‘middleman’ who was willing to facilitate my trip to Yemen,” he recalls. “I was told there were job opportunities waiting for me and others joining the journey. I sold what I could, borrowed money from people I knew, and finally got 15,000 ETB (about $280), enough to pay the broker.
He packed his bag and left.
“It was the first time I had seen the vast ocean. I didn’t know how to swim. When we arrived in Yemen, I was just happy to survive, but that happiness was short-lived as I was immediately arrested by the broker. He asked me to pay more in exchange for my freedom,” Abi shares.
Since he had no one to turn to for extra money, Abi was released and taken to work on a khat farm.
Tens of thousands of unaccompanied Ethiopian men, women and children like Abi are victims of “brokers” or human traffickers.
They leave the country for Yemen and the Gulf States in search of work to escape poverty, the effects of climate change and conflict. They undertake dangerous journeys through the “eastern route”, the main migratory route linking the Horn of Africa to the Gulf countries, by land and sea.
Unfortunately, many do not reach their destination and die along the way.
For those who are lucky enough to survive the journey and find work like Abi, they find themselves in deplorable working conditions with little pay, far from what was promised to them.
Ethiopia acts as both a source and transit state, and with Ethiopians leaving the country every year, the country remains at the center of irregular migration. At the heart of this irregular migration is an organized network of criminal actors working in the region and in the destination states.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) encourages Member States and key actors to commit to the elimination of trafficking. It does this by contributing to a number of regional and international multilateral processes. In 2020, the Ethiopian government enacted a law that provides for the prevention and suppression of trafficking and smuggling of migrants. It was the culmination of an extensive process supported by IOM from the initial drafting phase where it provided technical input into the establishment of support structures such as the National Partnership Coalition for the Prevention of the Crimes of Trafficking in Persons, People Smuggling and Illegally Sending People Abroad for Workincluding at the regional level.
“I spent three years in Yemen. There hasn’t been a day that I haven’t worked hard on the farm. That’s when I knew I had reached my physical limits,” Abi shares.
Abi heard about IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) assistance and contacted him so he could be on the next flight to Ethiopia.
IOM provides voluntary humanitarian return assistance to Ethiopians stranded in Yemen and other countries who wish to return. So far this year, nearly 1,655 Ethiopians have returned to Ethiopia from various countries, including 1,032 from Yemen.
“IOM staff receive returnees at the airport before they are transferred to the Organization’s transit center in Addis Ababa. There, returnees receive medical screenings, psychosocial support, essential humanitarian items, accommodation and food for the duration of their stay,” says Bawele Tchalim, Migrant Protection Program Manager for IOM Ethiopia.
“Those in good health are also provided with transport to their respective towns and villages, and additional in-kind socio-economic reintegration support is provided to the most vulnerable returnees.”
With the support of local authorities, IOM is also helping repatriated unaccompanied migrant children like Abi reunite with their families through the Organization’s Family Tracing and Reunification (FTR) program once their psychosocial and health needs are met. satisfied, and to be reunited with their loved ones in safety and dignity.
“I was happy when I learned that IOM had contacted my uncle. My parents separated when I was young and their two new partners didn’t want to welcome me. Being with my uncle will help me a lot,” he says enthusiastically.
As part of its reintegration assistance, IOM is working with government agencies to train returnees in life skills and basic business skills. IOM also helps returnees to write business plans based on locally viable livelihoods and helps them acquire initial in-kind capital to launch new businesses. Common economic activities include starting a shop or cafeteria, raising cattle, dairy farming, and a range of other commercial and agricultural activities to improve their livelihoods.
Abi is happy to open a small shop with the support of IOM.
“I would like to sell basic products like sugar, cereals, among other basic household items. In the meantime, I would also like to continue taking care of my health.
Asked about his message to those considering taking the same trip as him, Abi said, “Please don’t. Nothing awaits you there. It’s not worth the shot.”
IOM’s assisted return policy is based on a rights-based approach and focuses on the well-being of individual returnees and their communities throughout the return and reintegration process. IOM therefore places individuals and the protection of their rights at the center of all its efforts.
IOM’s humanitarian assistance and protection services in response to the needs of returnees are aligned with the Regional Migrant Response Plan (MRP) for the Horn of Africa and Yemen, 2022. The MRP aims to meet the needs of migrants in vulnerable situations and host communities in countries along the eastern migration route, located between the Horn of Africa and Yemen, with the financial support of several development partners including the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) of the United States Department of State, the French and Norwegian governments, as well as the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the returnee.
This story is written by Kaye Viray, Media and Communications Officer for IOM Ethiopia.