Like the thousands of migrants embarking on similar journeys, Bariso and Harinto were confronted with the harsh reality of the migration route through Yemen. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

Aden/Addis Ababa – Under Aden’s relentless heat, Bariso and his family wait in front of the crowded airport, their anticipation palpable amidst departing travellers and bustling airport staff. His wife Harinto and one-year-old Mohammed huddle together under the shade with their treasured belongings. Today is the day they board their flight home to Ethiopia, facilitated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM)’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme.

Two years ago, Bariso left his home and ventured to Yemen with big dreams of finding prosperity in the Gulf countries. “I was planning on working as a farmer and having a good income, as my friends had promised,” he recalls.

His glimmering dream of finding a well-paying job did not materialize and he soon ended up stranded. Once in Yemen, smugglers held Bariso captive and refused to let him continue his journey until he had raised ransom money from family and friends. Harinto was going through a similar situation at around the same time.

“Some of the people who I travelled with died, some got sick, and others ended up seriously injured or disabled,” 20-year-old Bariso recalls. “Those of us who made it to Yemen in relatively good physical condition are the lucky ones.”

In the moments before departure, migrants engage in the final preparations for the journey ahead. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

In 2024, more than 300,000 migrants, mostly from Somalia and Ethiopia, are expected to need humanitarian assistance and protection services, particularly women and girls. Like Bariso and Harinto, many will face dangerous journeys, leaving them vulnerable to violence, exploitation and abuse.

Once his dreams were shattered by the difficulties he encountered on the way, Bariso returned to Aden, where he struggled to make ends meet. Here he met Harinto, who, like him, had left Ethiopia in search of better opportunities abroad, and like him, had been held to ransom. Despite the hurdles they faced, the two got married, and soon after, welcomed their beloved son Mohammed into the world. His arrival made them realize that it was time to go home.

Due to their lack of proper documentation and limited access to basic services, migrants are more vulnerable to human rights violations. Upon their release from captivity, both Bariso and Harinto were faced with the harsh reality of costly living expenses. “We can’t even afford essentials for our baby, let alone rent; life here is too difficult,” Bariso explains.

The ongoing conflict in Yemen, coupled with tensions in the Red Sea and joint military efforts aimed at curbing irregular migration, have further exacerbated the vulnerabilities of migrants in the region. The plight of migrants remains dire, as many endure appalling living conditions and suffer human rights violations, waiting for the opportunity to return home.

The VHR programme currently stands as the only safe and dignified avenue for return of stranded migrants in Yemen. The programme provides a comprehensive range of services to returning migrants, including pre- and post-arrival assistance, family tracing and reunification, specialized protection services, and reintegration support in their countries of origin.

In 2023, nearly 6,600 migrants, predominantly of Ethiopian nationality, received VHR assistance to return to their home countries. IOM is actively working with stakeholders in Yemen and Ethiopia to facilitate the voluntary humanitarian return of thousands of migrants still stranded in Yemen.

During the wait, a fellow passenger lends a helping hand by feeding Mohammed with a baby bottle, easing the burden for mother Harinto. Photo: IOM/Majed Mohammed

To address these challenges, IOM advocates for collaborative efforts among authorities and increased donor support for the VHR programme to ensure migrants facing perilous conditions can safely return home, as well as for reintegration assistance, crucial for promoting self-sufficiency.

Additionally, IOM urges states to adopt a route-based approach to enhance migration governance, regardless of migrants’ status and to ensure continuity of services across the entire route to prevent irregular re-migration. Providing an integrated approach to reintegration and regular migration pathways can reduce the risks associated with irregular migration.

Despite the uncertainty of their future and the financial strain they face, a glimmer of hope flickers in Harinto’s eyes as she prepares to embark on a journey that holds the promise of a fresh start. “I’m not thrilled to be back here, but this is our best shot at a better life,” she says.

Despite the hardships she endured, Harinto holds onto hope for brighter days ahead once she returns home. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

IOM’s humanitarian assistance and protection services in response to the needs of migrants are part of the Regional Migrant Response Plan (MRP) 2024, which aims to address the needs of migrants in vulnerable situations and host communities in countries situated along the Eastern and Southern routes.

IOM’s VHR programme in Yemen is currently funded by the United States Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), the Ministry of Interior of France, and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

This story was written by Monica Chiriac, Media and Communications Officer with IOM Yemen, and Alemayehu Seifeselassie, National Communications Officer with IOM Ethiopia.

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