The story of Abate Rega Hailu is symbolic of many others in rural Ethiopia. The 15-year old boy was forced to drop out of school after perennial crop failures and drought affected the family’s livelihoods. The family was unable to earn enough money to let him and his six siblings continue their studies. 

Abate Arega Hailu (Middle) during a soccer tournament organized under the EU-IOM Joint community reintegration project in Habru Woreda, Ethiopia.  Photographer: IOM Ethiopia/2020

Abate was born and raised in Mehal Amba town in Habru district in the Amhara region. Agriculture, especially crop cultivation and animal husbandry, is the main source of livelihood for residents in Amhara, making the region very sensitive to weather changes and climate shocks. 

“Life hasn’t always been a challenge for me and my family”, he says as he recounts the ‘good old days’ when the farm that his family own produced enough food for their consumption and a surplus to sell at the local market.

In 2016, when El Niño effects started to impact the weather in the area, things began to change. The weather was no longer predictable. Hot days became longer, and the rains turned intermittent and violent. Crops yields plummeted, animal feed disappeared, and many animals died due to long droughts and the resulting water scarcity.

The family could barely afford food, let alone other expenses such as school fees. Abate and his siblings had no choice but to drop out.  

The young boy was faced with virtually no hope of finding work in Ethiopia to assist in bolstering the family’s income. He began to engage with smugglers who promised him a job and a better life in Saudi Arabia. Like many before him, who did not have many options, he followed the smugglers’ plan. Abate left his village to start the precarious journey to Yemen. After two back-breaking weeks, he arrived in Hayu, Djibouti.

Aerial drone image showcasing a known migrant walking path into Djibouti via the Ethiopian mountains. photographer: IOM 2017/ Mohammed Muse.

It was there that reality struck, and he realized that the journey to Saudi Arabia was not possible.

Smugglers demanded a large sum of money to help him cross the Red Sea. Abate and other exhausted migrants could not raise the money and decided to seek assistance from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), via its Migrant Resource Centre (MRC) in Obock, Djibouti. 

An empty water bottle lies in the middle of the Djibouti desert along a known migrant path between Ethiopia and Djibouti. Photographer: IOM 2017/Muse Mohammed.

Set up in Obock, a regular route for migrants, IOM’s Migrant Resource Centre is part of a the ‘EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa’. Through this programme, IOM provides Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration to migrants who are stranded along migratory routes. The support focuses on both facilitating the migrants’ safe return and providing individual assistance upon arrival, as well as successful reintegration into their communities of origin.

Young migrants in IOM's migrant resource centre outside Djibouti city, waiting for IOM to organize their voluntary return home. Photographer: IOM 2018/Olivia Headon

Abate was assisted with a flight ticket back to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and local transport fare back to his rural home in Habru Woreda (District), as well as a reintegration package to facilitate his smooth re-entry into his community.  

He has now been back in his village for one and a half years. With encouragement from the IOM team through, and through counselling and income from a cash-for-work programme, he has also re-enrolled in school to continue his secondary education and is part of the community reintegration project currently implemented by the IOM partner organization, Mekanayesus (EECMY DASSC), in Habru Woreda. 

Under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative, returnees are presented with several reintegration options including starting a micro-business. These types of intervention build the capacities of farming communities to cope with climate change and improve food security to enhance the returnee’s skills and provide opportunities for adaptation. These interventions also help minimize expected losses from climate change by diversifying income options for vulnerable communities so that they are no longer solely reliant on rain-fed agriculture. Abate plans to open an entertainment business and is waiting for the delivery of a pool table and other equipment he has procured. 

The EU-IOM Joint Initiative is also assisting his community to rehabilitate degraded lands. Local communities are being capacitated to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change through various programmes, such as reforestation, flood control, and water harvesting.

A team from the IOM Ethiopia country office during a routine visit at the community environmental rehabilitation project in Habru Woreda where trees have been planted to rehabilitate degraded land. Photographer: IOM Ethiopia/2020

As a beneficiary of the community reintegration project in Habru Woreda, Abate has planted grafted apple and mango on his own small farm. This will allow him to support his family and secure an additional long-term income. He is also one of the cash-for-work community members, who is actively involved in the activities of the project. These involve planting natural indigenous trees, hillside-terracing, trenching, mulching and weeding activities.

Community members carrying tree seedlings uphill during a tree planting event in Habru Woreda. Photographer: IOM Ethiopia/2020

Abate is also participating in the psychosocial reintegration activities organized through the community project, which included a local soccer tournament- He is a good football player and aspires to play for a big club and to represent his country. The games have created a conducive environment for young and old people to socialize. 

Youth took part in a football tournament in Habru Woreda to commemorate International migrants' day. Photographer: IOM Ethiopia/2020

This story resonates among many Ethiopians who journey the precarious, 1,200-kilometer route from destitute provinces of their residence nation to the Republic of Djibouti in the hope of reaching the Gulf states. 

Ethiopian migrants sleep on the beach in Djibouti city as the sun begins to rise. Photographer: IOM 2017/Mohommed Muse.

Abate is full of hope for the future and is convinced that he would not consider migrating irregularly again. He looks forward to the successful opening of his business and hopes to provide jobs for unemployed youth who find themselves in the same position he was before he migrated. He also expects to finish secondary school and to develop his career in football.

This story was written by Ivyne Mabaso, Regional Community Reintegration Officer, IOM Regional Office for East and Horn of Africa and Abebe Kassaw, National Reintegration officer, IOM Country office in Ethiopia. This story was edited by Lisa Lim Ah ken, Regional Migration, Environment and Climate Change (MECC) specialist in East and Horn of Africa and Sinziana Puscas, Programme Manager MECC Headquarters in Geneva with support from the IOM Ethiopia country office.  
For additional information please contact IOM Ethiopia Programme Support Unit at:
For more information on the links between migration, environment and climate change and IOM's work in this area, visit the IOM Environmental Migration Portal: https://environmentalmigration.iom.  For additional information about the EU-IOM Joint Initiative visit