Addis Abeba – In the face of mounting food security challenges and limited job prospects, an increasing number of young people in the war-torn Tigray region are seeking alternative means to reach the Arabian Peninsula. These individuals embark on treacherous journeys from the coast of Djibouti, crossing the perilous Gulf of Aden, in search of better opportunities. However, this route has become increasingly hazardous, raising concerns over their safety.
Haysh Subagadis, the head of the Tigray Youth Affairs Bureau, has expressed concern about the growing number of Tigray youth informally migrating to the Arabian Peninsula and other African countries through multiple routes. He says authorities have been receiving alarming reports regarding this issue.
Haysh emphasized that the issue is growing increasingly severe as some parents are now receiving death notifications and ransom demands exceeding one million birr from smugglers in Yemen and other transit countries. Hayish stated that while there are no precise figures on the number of migrants from Tigray, local administrators in the region have reported that over 3,000 young individuals have fled from a single district alone in the past four months.
According to an anonymous witness who spoke to Addis Standard, many young people from Tigray are illegally fleeing through the Afar region and continuing their journey to the Arabian Peninsula via Djibouti. The witness described his recent experience while traveling from Mekelle to Addis Ababa through the Afar region, encountering a bus filled mainly with youths, including girls, from Tigray. Upon reaching Semera, the capital of the Afar region, and a place called Serdo, most of the passengers disembarked, expressing their intention to travel further. Some passengers even disclosed to the witness that they were escaping due to a sense of hopelessness in Tigray.
The witness further mentions encountering an armed individual who stopped the bus and apprehended some of the migrants, possibly with the intention of extorting money from them. He described the incident happening at night, inside the Afar region, where the armed individual easily identified the migrants and took them, potentially for ransom, by making calls to their families.
Haysh mentioned that in addition to the devastation caused by the two-year war, the youths’ desperation to flee is intensified by delays in investment, construction, and other activities. “The weak economy, political crises, and lack of democracy further worsen the situation,” she said.
Furthermore, Haysh points out that brokers who have vested interests in migrants are disseminating false information about the potential outbreak of another war in the Tigray region, thereby instilling fear and insecurity among the youth.
For many years, Djibouti has served as a significant transit country for migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa who are attempting to irregularly reach the Arabian Peninsula. However, starting in 2022, the country has witnessed a rise in the number of migrants and asylum seekers coming from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that in July 2023 alone, there were 21,573 recorded migratory movements in Djibouti, with an average of 719 movements per day.
In April 2023, Djibouti’s Minister of Interior stated that the country had become overwhelmed by an influx of migrants from neighboring countries, with approximately 220,000 people arriving illegally in 2022.
In a press release issued in late August 2023, the IOM acknowledged that, despite the dangers involved, the number of Ethiopian migrants arriving in Djibouti from the Arabian Peninsula and Ethiopia continues to increase. According to the IOM, many migrants embark on this journey, hoping to find employment in the Gulf. However, rough waters, unseaworthy and overcrowded boats, and unscrupulous smugglers make this route extremely perilous. The UN agency stated that reports have indicated incidents where smugglers have thrown migrants overboard to reduce overcrowding, as well as numerous instances of boat capsizings.
Even after they have crossed the sea, the struggles of illegal migrants persist. A recent report by Human Rights Watch alleged that Saudi border guards have killed hundreds of Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers as they attempted to cross the Yemen-Saudi border since March 2022. Saudi Arabia is currently hosting around 750,000 Ethiopian migrants, with many of them having migrated for economic purposes. AS