The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said it has helped 3,478 vulnerable Ethiopian migrants stranded by the conflict in Yemen, including 229 medical cases, to return home. Of these, 1,429 were evacuated by IOM from Yemen to Ethiopia. “The remainder were assisted on arrival in Ethiopia at IOM’s Addis Abeba Transit Centre, which provided accommodation, food and onward transportation,” IOM said, adding most of the migrants were stranded in Yemen en route to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Over the past three weeks, 57 of the returnees have required medical assistance. “We were on board a truck which was taking us to the Saudi border when gunmen started shooting at us. Several of us were shot and two men were killed. The truck had to stop and we were captured by armed men,” IOM quoted Alemat Fitsum, an 18-year-old returnee, who was shot in the arm, as saying.
“IOM organized his return to Ethiopia and referred him to an Ethiopian hospital. Other returnees included migrants suffering burns, gunshot wounds and broken bones – some of them due to the conflict, others inflicted by traffickers, who tortured them to extort ransoms from their families.”
Another returnee, Kasim Yesuf, 20, from the Northern Ethiopian province of Wollo, was quoted as saying that his family paid smugglers everything they had to send him to Yemen. But in Yemen he was captured by traffickers, beaten and told to call his family and ask for 5,000 (Saudi) Riyals (USD 1,333) in ransom money.
Kasim’s family borrowed the money from neighbors to save his life. “I would have been burned with melting plastic if they had not sent the money,” he said. After his family paid the ransom, Kasim was put on a truck to the Saudi border, but an air strike hit the vehicle. “The doctors at the (IOM) transit center said that I will have to wait for a year before the shrapnel in my leg can be taken out,” he told IOM.
Another returnee, Melaku Teumai, 20, from Alamata-Tigray, Northern Ethiopia, says that he was lucky to return home uninjured.
“I was told that there are good paying jobs in Saudi herding goats, being a security guard, or working at a factory,” he said. “Because my father has passed away, I was supporting my family; I had the money to pay the smugglers. After I paid, I was put on a boat. There were 53 of us on the six hour voyage to Yemen. When we got there the Mishwar (traffickers) were waiting for us.”
Melaku and three friends were taken to a compound, where traffickers were beating migrants and demanding ransom money. Melaku’s sister, who lives in Saudi Arabia, paid 4,500 Riyals (USD 1,199) to get him released.
“Because of the war, the Mishwar did not want to take us near the border. They let us go on foot. But we were captured by another armed group who took another 2,500 Riyals (USD 666) from us. There were 12 of us walking for 12 days. A lot of Yemeni people on the street were kind and gave us food and water,” he added.
“We were three days away from the Saudi border when the canon shelling and air raids got to us and we had to take refuge at the IOM center. We had heard about the money that we would need to pay ransoms. But the war is something we didn’t expect,” he said, returning home destitute after two months of hardship.
“IOM has been helping Ethiopian returnees since the beginning of the conflict in Yemen in April 2015. The assistance is part of the IOM Assisted Voluntary Return Program implemented by IOM offices in Yemen, Djibouti and Ethiopia with financial support from the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM),” IOM said, but added it was urgently seeking funding to evacuate more Ethiopians and other vulnerable migrants still stranded in Yemen.