Ethiopian migrants smuggled through Horn of Africa

In Pictures: Ethiopian migrants smuggled through Horn of Africa

By Safa Msehli & Muse Mohammed
Farhiya and her eight-month-old son await return assistance to Ethiopia at a reception centre in Bosasso, Puntland. She arrived five months ago to look for her husband who left without a word. She heard rumours that he wanted to cross the Gulf of Aden to Yemen and then on to Saudi Arabia in search of work. She hitchhiked to Somalia and walked desert roads in a failed months-long search. ‘I have five other children to look after, so I’m going home.’ MUSE MOHAMMED/IOM

(Aljazeera) — Every year, large numbers of people around the world take perilous journeys fleeing poverty, violence, conflict and abuse. Many cross deserts on foot, in overcrowded smuggling trucks, or embark on deadly sea voyages.

Too often, their despair and fear are being exploited by human traffickers and smugglers who prey on their hopes and dreams, painting an image of a reality that often does not exist.

Among those undertaking the dangerous journeys in search of a better life are many Ethiopian men, women and children.

Some of them travel to Somalia and Djibouti along the so-called Eastern Migration Route, cross the Gulf of Aden, and journey through conflict-torn Yemen to the Gulf, mainly to Saudi Arabia. Others head northwest to Sudan and onto conflict-torn Libya to try and cross the central Mediterranean.

On the Eastern Migration Route, almost two-thirds of the 138,000 people who in 2019 crossed to Yemen, boarded smugglers’ vessels in the port town of Bosasso, in Puntland state. Some depart from Hargeisa in Somaliland while significant numbers go through Obock, in Djibouti.

It is in the expansive desert and the Somali towns bordering Ethiopia, that thousands of people – many of them minors – are abandoned after giving what little money they have to smugglers. Scared, bewildered, and engulfed by the immensity of the desert, they walk.

Leaving Bosasso on the 950km (590-mile) journey to Hargeisa in Somaliland to the east, you come across groups of people walking beside the dusty desert roads, holding on to the few belongings they carried from home.

These are the untold stories – the faces behind the numbers.

* Some names have been changed

Zainaba, an 18-year-old Ethiopian, came to Somalia planning to cross to Yemen and then Saudi Arabia. She was stranded along the journey and, after reaching Bosasso, decided to seek the help of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to return home. MUSE MOHAMMED/IOM
Two children play in a shelter for unaccompanied victims of trafficking in Bosasso, Puntland. Young and gullible, they fell for the trafficker’s promise to take them to Dubai to find jobs. ‘The man came to the school,’ Ali recalled. ‘He told us he would get us to Dubai in a few days. I did not tell my parents because I knew they would not agree. I see how much they struggle to feed us, and I thought if I got a job, I would be able to help.’ Instead, the smuggler took all their money and abandoned the pair in Bosasso. MUSE MOHAMMED/IOM
Daida, a 19-year-old Ethiopian, also came to Somalia intending to cross to Yemen and then to Saudi Arabia. She was stranded along the way and after reaching Bosaso, decided to seek the IOM’s help to return home. MUSE MOHAMMED/IOM
Seventeen-year-old Hamza is one of many who left home at a young age to chase the dream of going to Europe. The smugglers he paid to take him to Libya extorted money from his worried mother and put him on a boat headed to Europe, only to be intercepted by a coastguard patrol, returned and detained. His experience in Libya, like that of hundreds of thousands, was scarring. He is now back in Somalia pursuing a college education to become an engineer. MUSE MOHAMMED/IOM
Fourteen-year-old Camilia was among a group of children approached by a smuggler at her school with the promise of being assisted to find work in the Gulf. As soon as they reached the port city of Bosasso, however, the smuggler took their phones, called their parents, and demanded more money. They remained in limbo for days while the smuggler extorted all he could from their worried families. He then abandoned the children on the outskirts of the town. With help from a passerby, they reached a centre in town that supports child victims of trafficking and are now waiting to be reunited with their loved ones. ‘I just wanted to help my parents,’ she said. ‘I did not know I would end up adding to their troubles.’ MUSE MOHAMMED/IOM
Mohamed arrived in Burco, Somaliland, 15 years ago seeking medical assistance. He had an eye infection and could not get the help he needed in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, he lost his sight, and with it, the hope for a better future. ‘I was broken,’ Mohamed said. ‘I was young and had no money or friends to rely on. The darkness lifted when I met Ali. He has been my companion ever since.’ The pair and 50 others live in makeshift accommodation on the outskirts of Burco, begging to survive in an already impoverished area. ‘Going back to Ethiopia would not be possible because I have nothing left’ At least I have family here.’ MUSE MOHAMMED/IOM
Roman fled Ethiopia when she was 18 years old. She arrived in Somalia, hoping to build a safer life. Widowed at a young age with three mouths to feed, she married another man, and had two more children. They had very little besides each other. One day, her husband left Somalia in an attempt to get to Saudi Arabia through Yemen. ‘I have not heard from him in months,’ she says. ‘Had it not been for the kindness of strangers, my children and I would have starved to death.’ MUSE MOHAMMED/IOM
Two Ethiopian children outside their home in a shantytown in Burco, Somaliland. The informal settlement, which has existed for several years, is home to dozens of Ethiopian migrants who tried to make the journey to Saudi Arabia but failed to even reach Yemen. Most wish to return to their villages in Ethiopia but lack the money to do so. MUSE MOHAMMED/IOM
Fadmou holds her baby girl as she waits in a clinic in Hargeisa, Somaliland. The 18-year-old Ethiopian and her husband plan to migrate to Yemen and then to the Gulf in search of a better life. ‘Life has not treated us kindly here,’ she said. ‘My friends tell me that Saudi Arabia is the land of opportunities, and I want to go now because I don’t want my child to grow in poverty like I did.’ MUSE MOHAMMED/IOM
Firomsa waits at a community centre for Ethiopian migrants in Hargeisa. The 15-year-old arrived in the country with his younger brother, Buhari, 14. The two were persuaded by friends to leave their village in the town of Jarso, in Ethiopia, in order to travel to Saudi Arabia. ‘They would call and tell us how amazing it was over there,’ said Firomsa. ‘They only spoke of good things and said that we needed to do the same.’ The journey, which they took with many others, was very dangerous. One night, while on the road, the driver of the vehicle they were travelling in was briefly distracted while arguing with someone in the van and lost control, causing it to roll over. Many were injured. Stranded in Hargeisa, the boys found refuge at a centre for migrants where they learned of the dangers ahead on their continuing journey. ‘They only told us that we had to cross Yemen … they never said that there was a war happening,” Firomsa said. MUSE MOHAMMED/IOM
Children abandoned by smugglers gather at a community centre for Ethiopian migrants in Hargeisa. The young boys were strangers to one another but shared the same journey – and the same fears. Lured from their rural homes with the promise of jobs and fortunes in Saudi Arabia, their journey was cut short when their smugglers’ truck had an accident in Somalia. The near-death experience was enough to convince them to stop in Hargeisa where they found refuge in the community centre. Now the boys simply want to be able to return home to their families and identify the smugglers to local authorities in the hope that such an act would prevent them from luring other youthes into making the same journey. MUSE MOHAMMED/IOM
Smugglers are quite familiar in Fatura’s hometown in Ethiopia. ‘We met them in the town’s main square and they put us in their car and took us away,’ explains the 17-year-old. Fatura paid roughly $425 to reach Somalia before deciding to return home. ‘When I get back, I am going to report them to the police and tell others not to trust them,’ she said. MUSE MOHAMMED/IOM
Migrants walking along the side of the road in the desert near Burco, Somaliland. The town is a known point of origin for Somali migrants hoping to travel abroad to destinations like Saudi Arabia or Europe. For Ethiopian migrants, it ranks among their transit locations. MUSE MOHAMMED/IOM


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