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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.