By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
March 30, 2016 (ADDIS ABABA) –The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has resumed humanitarian evacuations of stranded Ethiopian migrants from war-hit Yemen.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, IOM said it had evacuated 485 vulnerable Ethiopian migrants including 122 women, 101 unaccompanied minors since it resumed operation on 19 March.
The latest repatriation operation is part of an earlier voluntary repatriations operation which was suspended in September 2015 due short of funding.
IOM’s has previously repatriated over 4,000 Ethiopian migrants who were stranded in the Middle Eastern nation. The organisation resumed the latest repatriation operation after it recently secured new financial pledges.
The latest operation is being carried out in close cooperation with the governments of Yemen, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia, as well as IOM missions in the region.
According to IOM officials in Ethiopia, the organization aims to evacuate a total of 1,212 stranded Ethiopia n migrants using the new emergency funding.
The migrants are evacuated on boats from Yemen’s Hodeidah seaport to Djibouti and then onto buses from Djibouti to Ethiopia.
The stories told by the migrants testify to the urgency of the evacuation and the desperate situation of many migrants in Yemen.
Ahmed (not real names), a 22-year old barber, explained that he left Ethiopia in search of a better standard of living in Saudi Arabia.
“After paying smugglers to take us to Yemen, and we were promised that we would be on our way to Saudi Arabia to make a lot of money. But we were intercepted by kidnappers as soon as we got off the boat in Yemen,” he said.
“We saw two individuals beaten to death. They were hung upside down and beaten to death; we watched them die.”
Ali, a 25-year-old khat shop owner, told IOM how he was kidnapped and held to ransom.
He said his family members in Saudi Arabia had to pay the kidnappers a total of 10,000 Saudi Riyals (USD 2,700) for his release.
He said he considers himself fortunate, given the cruelty he witnessed.
“We saw the kidnappers carving out the eyes of men with a knife. They melted plastic on the backs of some of them. We saw one young man who was beaten so badly his arm and chest bones were broken. He was thrown out into the street to be eaten by dogs. If you don’t have the money to pay the ransom demanded you die. We also saw many women who were raped,” he said.
The migrants who either managed to escape or were released by kidnappers following ransom payments were given refuge in IOM Yemen shelters. But they represent a very small percentage of the migrants in need of repatriation, according to Fumiko Nagano, IOM’s Migration Management Programme Coordinator in Ethiopia.
The Director-General of the Middle East Affairs Directorate at the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Siraj Reshid says that the latest returns of migrants from Yemen further underline the need to strengthen the fight against human traffickers and migrant smugglers.
“The Government of Ethiopia has already ratified an umbrella law and we are working on its implementation to promote regular channels for those who seek job opportunities abroad,” he said.
Every month, hundreds of Ethiopians make perilous journey to Yemen in search of lucrative job opportunities and a better future.
However, many perish on the route while taking a dangerous sea crossing and others fall in the hands of human traffickers along the way where they are taken hostage for ransom.
But lately more and more Ethiopian migrants are seeking return home since conflict escalated between Houthi rebels and those loyal to exiled President Ahdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.
According to UNHCR over 90,000 migrants arrived in Yemen in 2015 and some 89% of them are believed to be Ethiopian nationals.