BOSASO, December 26th (by Claudia Barrios Rosel, IOM Somalia) –
Jafar had two wishes. The first was to see his family again. He couldn’t remember when he left Ethiopia; maybe eight months before, maybe a year.
Financial troubles in the teen’s hometown convinced him that Saudi Arabia would be the best choice for a better life. Some of his neighbors had already done so, and in turn enabled their relatives to renovate houses and open businesses.
Jafar’s second wish was to find permanent employment that would enable him to graduate and support those he loved most.
Jafar was stranded in Bosaso, a coastal town in northern Somalia and an important transit point for migrants en route to the Gulf States. “I had finished eighth grade at school. I worked as a manual worker and relied on myself to advance my education,” he says of his life in Ethiopia.
Like thousands of migrants who did the same thing before him, the 17-year-old left everything behind to pursue his dream of a better life. What he didn’t know was that the road in front of him would be full of danger.
He traveled to inhospitable landscapes in Ethiopia and Somalia, covering more than 1,000 kilometers at temperatures of 40 degrees in some cases.
“A human trafficker took me from where I lived in Arsi to Adama, then to Chiro and Jijiga. After Jijiga we went into a forest and had to walk for two hours,” he says. “Later the dealer rented us a car and we were supposed to pay money at some checkpoints.”
Jafar’s tired tone and eyes suggest that it wasn’t all easy. During weeks of traveling, they had little water or food to drink and no choice but to sleep in the open air. Fortunately, the traffickers he was with weren’t as bad as others.
“I had no problem with the trafficker who brought me here. But there are others that are very complicated. They usually hit the young people who sell them. In Laas Anood someone died after being hit,” says he.
Immediately after reaching Bosaso, Jafar’s health began to deteriorate. Bad news came after a medical examination. “I had tuberculosis. They took me to the hospital and there I started treatment.”
After six months of medical care and thanks to strong medication, he managed to recover.
Jafar’s Odyssey illustrates the story of hundreds of thousands of migrants who travel between the Horn of Africa and Yemen each year in search of work in the Gulf States. This migration corridor is known as the Eastern Route and is used more than the Mediterranean route to Europe by people departing from the Horn of Africa.
“The lack of regular migration routes and the complex realities of a region where many are suffering the worst of conflict and climate change continue to force people to make these risky journeys through the desert, the sea and Yemen, a war-ravaged country. “Says the head of mission of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Somalia, Richard Danziger.
This year’s IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix recorded that approximately 14,611 migrants from Somalia and Djibouti arrived on the coast of Yemen between January and October. According to the IOM mid-year publication A Region on the Move 2021, 76% of migrants were men from Ethiopia and 14% were women.
Saffia, 27, also left Ethiopia with the intention of going to Saudi Arabia to find a better job. That happened seven years ago, but she never achieved her goal. “I arrived in Bosaso with a group of women and we tried to travel to Yemen. Part of my group was taken to the mountain region at night because the boats leave from there,” he says.
“Two women were raped that night. I was supposed to go there tomorrow morning, but when I found out about this incident, I canceled my plans.” Eventually her friends made it to Yemen, but she lost touch with them.
This is not an isolated incident. Migrants often leave their homes unaware of the dangers that await them. Thousands of migrant testimonials compiled over the years have shown that the eastern route is one of the riskiest – and often underrated – in the world.
Women and girls are at high risk of gender-based violence, while unaccompanied minors are also at serious risk from criminals who can arrest them against their will, use forced labor, remain in detention or live on the streets in appalling conditions.
“I have seen many women and young women raped and left in extremely serious condition,” says Safia.
Hundreds of people are believed to have died along the route, and particularly in the Gulf of Aden. Between January and October 2021, the Missing Migrants Project recorded 64 migrant deaths in the Gulf of Aden. Numbers are said to be higher, but a lack of funds for further investigation and difficulties in accessing some of the migration routes controlled by smuggling networks and armed groups make data collection difficult.
Unlike Jafar and Safia, some migrants make it to Saudi Arabia, but many others remain stranded along the route, particularly in Yemen. Because they have lost their money to the traffickers, they usually cannot continue driving or return safely. Even those who finally make it to their destination are often arrested and deported to their countries of origin.
Despite the best efforts of the IOM and other partners, there is insufficient funding to support everyone making the trip, including the hundreds of Somalis forcibly repatriated from the Gulf States in recent years.
“More funds are needed as soon as possible to end the suffering of these people and to make their migration trips safer,” says Danziger. “We need to prioritize programs that offer long-term solutions to increase their resilience so that they are not initially forced to leave their communities of origin.”
The IOM supports women, men and minors with a network of Migrant Response Centers (MRC) that are scattered along major migration routes such as the East Route. Today Safia works as a translator at the MRC in Bosaso. Almost 4,000 migrants have received help there since 2019.
In Bosaso, IOM also supports other centers and safe houses that care for migrants in need. One of these is the Ethiopian Community Center, where Jafar stayed before returning to Ethiopia through IOM Voluntary Return and Reintegration Support. Their return was made possible thanks to funds from the EU-IOM joint initiative on the protection and reintegration of migrants. Almost 1,430 migrants have been assisted in returning from Somalia, particularly Ethiopia, since the program began operating in the country in 2017.
Aid to Jafar and other migrants in need is also part of the regional migrant action plan for the Horn of Africa and Yemen; 2021-2024, which provides a coordinated response for 39 partners to meet humanitarian and protection needs.