Sana'a/Addis Ababa, 10 April 2023 – The thought of the possibility to move abroad for work presented a life-changing opportunity for 23-year-old Haji*. With that opportunity, he would finally be able to support his family but would have to go on a dangerous journey facilitated by smugglers.  

Many had taken the well-known Eastern Route, one of the busiest, most complex, and most dangerous migratory routes in the world from the Horn of Africa to Yemen. With no prospects of securing work opportunities, he made the decision to take the journey – in hopes that he could at least secure a living for himself and his family. 

“There were no work opportunities back home, so I decided to leave and develop myself,” he recalls. 

He had joined the over 73,000 migrants from the Horn of Africa that traversed the eastern route by crossing the Red Sea through either Bossaso in Somalia or Djibouti’s coastal town of Obock to Yemen, and further by land across Yemen on their way to Gulf countries in search of opportunities to better their lives. 

Haji then arranged with a smuggler to facilitate his journey from Ethiopia to Yemen and onwards to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, his intended destination. What transpired during the journey would alter the course of his life. The very smugglers he and his companions had paid to facilitate their travel would take advantage of their vulnerability and their status as irregular migrants to extort and exploit them.   

“When we arrived in Yemen, the smugglers held us in captivity and asked us to call our friends and families to send money. I couldn’t give them any money, so I was beaten and forced to work,” he recalls.  

Tens of thousands have become stranded in Yemen unable to cross dangerous frontlines and often without access to basic needs. Most are subjected to unimaginable violence and abuse.

He was finally released after the ordeal with the smugglers and proceeded with his journey. “At the border, I stepped on a land mine and lost my leg,” he tearfully shared. 

In Yemen, IOM provided Haji with a safe place to stay and rest. After some time, he decided to return home to Ethiopia through the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme. He was among the 127 stranded Ethiopian migrants assisted to voluntarily return home on a VHR flight from Sana’a to Addis Ababa in October 2022. 

Thousands of other stranded Ethiopia migrants in Yemen like Haji are being assisted to take these life-saving flights from Aden, Sana’a and Ma’rib so they can return home in a safe and dignified manner.  

In addition to the various forms of trafficking migrants are subjected to, migrants also suffer from serious human rights violations, including abduction, torture, starvation, targeted killings and sexual violence.  

In the course of their journeys, migrants often find themselves in vulnerable situations – stuck between a raging war and human rights abuses – and are in need of life-saving assistance. 

In 2022, IOM helped more than 4,000 migrants take VHR flights last year from Yemen and are continuing to move people out of dangerous situations in 2023.  

Upon arrival in Ethiopia, they are accommodated at the IOM Transit Centre in Addis Ababa where they receive post-arrival assistance including medical, mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS).  

As part of Haji's post-arrival support, he received medical assistance from IOM Ethiopia and was referred to a clinic for his prosthetic leg. Photo: IOM 2022/Kaye Viray 

Those who are ready to travel on to their families and communities are assisted to do so. In cooperation with child protection authorities from the government and other partners, IOM traces families of unaccompanied migrant children and provides family reunification assistance. 

Haji was elated to find out that after numerous tests, his leg is eligible for prosthetics. Photo: IOM 2022/Kaye Viray 

As part of the post-arrival medical support, IOM assisted Haji to acquire a prosthetic leg on his arrival back home.  Accompanied by IOM nurses, Haji went through fittings, casting, and trying on the prosthetic leg. After weeks of waiting, he finally received his prosthesis and went through physiotherapy. 

“The first therapy session was hard. But slowly, I got used to the new leg and I can see myself doing things that I was able to do before I got amputated.” 

Still, IOM is providing Haji with onward transportation and the means to start a retail shop as part of his reintegration assistance. Having a shop means he can support himself without burdening his body too much. This will allow him to support himself and his family. 

“What I’ve gone through was very difficult. I wish I could turn back time. It is not worth risking your life for,” Haji lamented. 

IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return Initiative is funded by the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre  (KSrelief). IOM's health response to migrants in Yemen is funded by EU Humanitarian Aid and the Governments of Germany and Finland. 

IOM’s humanitarian assistance and protection services in response to the needs of the returnees are aligned with the Regional Migrant Response Plan (MRP) for the Horn of Africa and Yemen, 2023. The MRP aims to address the needs of migrants in vulnerable situations and host communities in countries situated along the Eastern Migratory Route, located between the Horn of Africa and Yemen. 

*Name has been changed due to sensitivities and protection purposes. 

This story was written by Kaye Viray, Media and Communication Officer, IOM Ethiopia. 

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