IOM requests funding to repatriate Ethiopian migrants in Yemen

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Dec 29 2011

Thousands of Ethiopian migrants face inhabitable conditions in the Northern Yemeni city of Hadra. Living in open spaces, the migrants have no access to food, water, or sanitation facilities. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has successfully repatriated over 6,000 migrants this year, but no longer has resources to aid the remaining Ethiopians. The IOM is requesting aid from the international community to continue their mission.

Each year, tens of thousands of Ethiopians make the arduous journey across the Gulf of Aden in the hopes of finding work in Saudi Arabia, which borders Northern Yemen. This year alone, over 45,000 Ethiopians arrived in Yemen and over 18,300 of these migrants were registered on the Saudi-Yemen border. Many undocumented migrants were returned from Saudi Arabia, which has implemented increasingly strict border policies.

In August, the IOM requested $2.5 million to complete its Yemen mission. In addition to repatriating migrants, the IOM also provides vital humanitarian aid. Some migrants require treatment for injuries sustained from torture imparted by smugglers, while others have been caught up in Yemen’s conflict; migrants have been assaulted and accused of lending mercenary services to the opposing side, though most are in no condition to provide such physically demanding services. The IOM estimates that at least 30 migrants have died in the past month alone, though the actual number is likely much higher.

IOM Spokesperson Jemini Pandya describes the grueling difficulties these migrants face:

"Their exhausting ordeal, their exposure to the elements without adequate nutrition and sanitation and their exposure to violence means that many migrants are suffering from diseases and illnesses, from snake bites and are showing signs of mistreatment from smugglers and traffickers. And these include severe burns, broken limbs, gunshot wounds and other physical and sexual assaults.”  

Dozens of migrants protested in front of the IOM departure center in August, pleading to be returned home. With emergency funding from Saudi Arabia and Japan, the IOM will be able to repatriate around 800 migrants in the next week. The Ethiopian government has also contributed to the IOM's efforts, but the organization continues to work with a chronically under-funded budget. The IOM has released several statements over the past year requesting aid for this particular effort.

The IOM's Chief of Mission in Yemen explains the critical nature of the situation:

"This is an extremely difficult situation. Many of the migrants are in danger from violence and intimidation from smugglers. We've had bodies of migrants thrown into the IOM compound – killed by smugglers or in accidents for which the perpetrators are rarely held accountable. Their anger and frustration is understandable. They want to go home. IOM wants to be able to do more to help and evacuate them from the country, but we simply don’t have the money to carry out an operation of this scale."

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East