“Before I came to Yemen, I was full of hope about the life I would have in the Gulf,” said seventeen-year-old Almaz. “But nobody told me about the war.”
Close to six years of conflict in Yemen have had little impact on the number of people travelling on the Eastern Route from the Horn of Africa to the Arabian Gulf. Many are not aware that they will enter a conflict zone by making the sea voyage across the Gulf of Aden.
Almaz (17 years old)
“Before I came to Yemen, I was full of hope about the life I would have in the Gulf. But nobody told me about the war.”
Almaz left her home in Ethiopia eager to make enough money to support her family. She had seen how much her neighbours, who had travelled to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), had supposedly sent back home.
Without telling her parents her plan, she started her journey to KSA.
“I made it to Djibouti on my own. But when I arrived, I was surprised to find out that the smugglers wanted a lot of money to take me to Yemen,” said Almaz, who eventually had no choice but to turn to smugglers to reach the African coast.
The teenager eventually called her father and asked him for help. He had been worried about where she had disappeared to and was comforted to hear that she was safe. Reluctantly, he gave into her request and sent the money to fund her journey to Yemen.
Almaz was relieved when she eventually made it to a market in northern Yemen, which she knew to be close to the Saudi border. She spent the night near the market, hoping to cross the next day; that day the market was hit.
She was wounded in the strike; her leg was injured.
She was rushed immediately to Al Salam Hospital in the city of Sa’ada by other migrants, who had not been hurt. A humanitarian organization gave Almaz urgent medical treatment. She stayed in Sa’ada for ten days before she was brought to a family who offered her a safe place to stay.
Through a foster family programme run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), hundreds of stranded migrants like Almaz. are able to find safety, shelter, health care and food along their journeys.
When Almaz arrived at her foster family she roomed with Aziza, an 18-year-old young woman, who also ran away from her home in Ethiopia. She did not tell her family where she was until she had made it to Djibouti and had no money to pay the smugglers.
Aziza thought that if she could work in KSA, she could become well off. Driven by her dream, she ran away, embarking on this dangerous endeavour and not knowing what awaited her.
When Aziza reached Djibouti, she had to call her father to ask him for money, but her father refused and asked her to go back home. But she insisted - Aziza’s father gave in eventually and sent her money.
She arrived at the same market just a few days before Almaz did. On her fourth day of waiting to cross the border, she was at a stream with fellow travelers when they hear a loud explosion. Shrapnel flew in their direction.
This was the same strike that injured Almaz.
“I was unconscious when someone rushed me to hospital. When I woke up, I was wounded from shrapnel in my leg, arm, chest and neck,” said Aziza. She remained in the hospital for a few days before being brought to IOM’s foster family in Sana’a.
Before Almaz and Aziza came to their foster family, they were scared and worried. Their dreams of reaching the Gulf abruptly ended, and the two young girls were lost, not knowing what they would face next. They could no longer go back to the smugglers, and they had nowhere else to go. The family was supported by IOM to give the young women the care and security they needed.
IOM is providing Almaz with the physical therapy she needs to cope with the loss of her leg, and Aziza is receiving medications, medical checkups and is in the process of having a surgery to remove the shrapnel from her body.
They both wish for nothing more than to recover and see their families again.
“Don’t take this route… don’t come to Yemen. Stay in your country, study and build your future. Don’t believe that it is easy to go to the Gulf through Yemen, it is very dangerous,” said Aziza, advising other young people considering a similar journey.
*Names changed to protect identities