Jaala and Mona, two young Ethiopian women living at IOM’s foster family in Sana’a. Photo: IOM 2019/ Mennatallah Homaid

“The smugglers told me that I could have a good job and earn a lot of money, if I went to the Gulf. Nobody told me about the war and the dangers I would face in Yemen.”

said Jaala, a young Ethiopian woman

Despite the conflict, migrants continue to arrive in Yemen. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), nearly 93,400 migrants had entered the country between January and July 2019. Lured by smugglers to make the trip with little to no knowledge of the escalating crisis, migrants are faced with the reality of harsh conditions in a conflict zone, leaving a lasting impact on their mental health.

Detained migrants in a football stadium in Aden. Photo: IOM 2019/ Olivia Headon

During this difficult journey, migrants can be subjected to human rights violations - injury, kidnapping, abuse, exploitation and becoming caught up the conflict.

Like many using the Gulf route, Jaala* and Mona* are two young Ethiopian women in pursuit of decent jobs and a stable future. They hoped to travel through Yemen to reach wealthier Gulf countries.

Twenty-six-year-old Jaala left her two little boys with their grandmother and risked coming to Yemen without any family or friends. But her children never left her thoughts throughout the journey.

"I wanted to go to KSA [the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] for myself and for my children. I spent a lot of money to come to Yemen and I cannot go back to my family with nothing.”

explained Jaala

Jaala is now on the road to recovery but she will never forget what she experienced in Yemen. Photo: IOM 2019/ Mennatallah Homaid

After a tiring trip through Yemen, Jaala made it to Sa’ada governorate on the border with KSA where she was caught up in clashes and shot in her right outer thigh. Scared, wounded and unable to walk, her dreams of a secure future in the Gulf vanished.

A humanitarian organization in Sa’ada helped Jaala get emergency treatment. She remained in hospital for 26 days before being brought for recovery to IOM’s foster family in Sana’a city.

Soon IOM’s team could tell that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For Jaala, PTSD manifested in a mixture of fear, nervousness, anxiety and insomnia.

“We provided Jaala with counselling, helping her regain a feeling of balance,” said Fatima Yehya Al Aroumi, an IOM clinical phycologist working with migrants in need of therapy and counselling. “Sadly, her story is not unique; most irregular migrants IOM comes into contact with are in need of psychosocial and mental health support.”

At the foster family, Jaala has a safe place to stay with enough food and water- something she went days without while on the road- and she can easily access protection and health services from IOM. Support from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) makes it possible for IOM to provide this much needed support to irregular migrants.

Jaala’s roommate Mona, is a twenty-year-old young woman. Like her countrywoman, she embarked on this journey to seek an opportunity in the Gulf. Without telling her family or knowing what awaited her, she travelled to Djibouti and then to Yemen’s southern coast.

When the barely sea-worthy boat reached the shore, people started pushing each other to disembark quickly, unsure of what lay ahead. Tired and weak from the long journey, Mona tripped and hit her head.  

Mona did not tell her family before she left her home in Ethiopia. Photo: IOM 2019/ Mennatallah Homaid

She bled alone for hours, without any medical attention.

Lacking the cash to pay the smugglers for the rest of her journey to KSA, she was sent to work as domestic help at a home near the border. This is where the fine line between smuggling and trafficking was crossed in Mona’s story.

“I worked in the house for four days before I suffered from a severe headache that stopped me from working. The dealers took me back to the arrival tent [location where smugglers and traffickers temporarily hold migrants] and I did not get any medical care.”

added Mona

As a result of her head injury, Mona gradually started to lose her eyesight until she became fully blind.

Without having access to medical care for a long time, Mona is worried that she may never regain her sight. Photo: IOM 2019/ Mennatallah Homaid

IOM has taken Mona into its foster family in Sana’a and is providing her with the care she needs.

When she arrived at IOM’s foster family, Mona was not only burdened by physical suffering; she also had an overwhelming sense of guilt and anxiety. She thought that losing her eyesight was a sort of punishment for travelling without her family’s consent. Through multiple psychosocial support sessions at IOM’s migrant clinic in Sana’a, Mona began to regain her self-respect and emotional calmness.

“The hardships that irregular migrants go through on the Gulf route, including being exploited by smugglers and traffickers, can take a massive toll on their mental wellbeing. Unfortunately, only the lucky few can access the support needed to overcome their experiences,” explained IOM’s physiologist Fatima.

An IOM doctor conducts a medical examination of an injured migrant at IOM’s health clinic in Sana’a. Photo: IOM 2019/ Olivia Headon

Longing for a stable income to provide for their families, but only able to take a dangerous route, Jaala and Mona ended up injured and in desperate need of help. Now, they all wish for one thing: to regain their physical and emotional health.

“All I want is to get my sight back. I hope that IOM can help me receive proper treatment, and if I do not get well, I want to go back home.”

said Mona

IOM’s DFID-supported foster families in Sana’a and Aden provide vulnerable migrants with safe temporary accommodation and access to medical attention and psychological support, until they are fully recovered and able to go on with their lives.“All I want is to get my sight back. I hope that IOM can help me receive proper treatment, and if I do not get well, I want to go back home,” said Mona.

“I love Yemen and I do not want to quit what I came for since I already made it here. I want to recover fast and start working in Yemen so that I can provide for my children home.”

added Jaala

*Names changed to protect identities