ETHIOPIA: Cautionary migration tales are no deterrent
JIJIGA, 22 November 2011 (IRIN) - Ethiopians are on the move. Not only are
more rural people relocating to towns and cities, but the number of
Ethiopians leaving the country has also ballooned in the last few years.
Many are trying to reach Saudi Arabia via Yemen, while thousands of others
head for South Africa, Israel and Europe, crossing deserts and seas and
placing their lives in the hands of smugglers who often have little regard
for their well-being.
Most of the migration from Ethiopia is undocumented, so accurate numbers are
hard to come by, but the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported in 2010 that in
Yemen alone nearly 35,000 of newly arrived migrants were Ethiopians,
accounting for two-thirds of all new arrivals that year. Between January and
October 2011, almost 52,000 Ethiopians made their way to Yemen.
Refugees from Somalia follow similar routes, often using the same smugglers,
but their reasons for undertaking these dangerous journeys are more
apparent: Somalia has been plagued by armed conflict for nearly two decades
and is now in the midst of a famine.
Ethiopia is not engaged in a civil war, and although parts of the country
have been hard hit by drought, it is one of the world's largest recipients
of development aid. However, it also has one of Africa's largest populations
- an estimated 75 million - with a growing rate of youth unemployment and a
shortage of job opportunities.
"The main reason people migrate from Ethiopia to Yemen is because of need -
they go there [Saudi Arabia] to earn money," said Daud Elmi, 28, who left
his village of Lafaisa in eastern Ethiopia to find work in Saudi in 2006.
Instead, he spent a year in a refugee camp in Djibouti, and another three
months in a camp in Yemen, avoiding arrest by claiming to be a refugee from
Somalia. After failing to earn enough money to cross into Saudi Arabia, he
finally returned home.
Elmi advises others in his town who are planning to migrate to Yemen or
Saudi not to take the risk, but a number still do. "Everyone goes there to
improve his life," he told IRIN. "What we earn here is hand-to-mouth - we
can't save. If you go there and send money home, you can build a house,
start a business or help your relatives."
Tagel Solomon, coordinator of irregular migration programmes at the
International Organization for Migration (IOM), confirmed that Ethiopians
usually migrate in search of economic opportunities.
Most are young men like Kadar Mowlid Mahamoud, 23, who teaches English and
computer skills. He set off from Lafaisa in 2008, "seeking a better life" in
Europe, but was lucky to make it through Somaliland, a self-declared state
on the Gulf of Aden, and Yemen. He ran out of water near the Saudi Arabian
border and resorted to drinking his own urine, only to be robbed at
knifepoint shortly after crossing.
He eventually found casual labour on construction sites in Riyadh, Saudi
Arabia's capital, and during the 18 months he spent there managed to save a
little money. But after being severely injured in a car accident, his
savings were wiped out by the hospital bill and he decided it was time to go
home. He turned himself in to the authorities and was deported in October
Most Ethiopians who leave the country are classified as economic migrants
and do not qualify for the protection and assistance that refugees receive,
but a 2011
497&name=DLFE-1333.pdf> study of migration from the Horn of Africa to Yemen
by the Danish Refugee Council, notes that "a significant percentage fall in
a grey zone that involves elements of economic migration brought on by
political and economic oppression".
Interviews with new arrivals in Yemen reveal that certain ethnic groups are
harassed and suffer discrimination by local government officials in Ethiopia
because of their perceived allegiance to rebel armed groups such as the
Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF)
and even established opposition parties like the Oromo People's Congress.
Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the authorities
were carrying out mass
arrests of ethnic Oromo Ethiopians, whom they alleged were members of the
banned OLF. The Danish Refugee Council report said 47 percent of new
Ethiopian arrivals registered in Yemen in 2010 were of Oromo ethnicity.
"You don't even have to be an OLF sympathiser - any form of communication
with someone who might have a link with the OLF could be enough to get you
arrested, and this is what is very worrying," Laetitia Bader, a researcher
with HRW, told IRIN.
New Ethiopian arrivals interviewed in Yemen also confirmed the findings of a
2010 HRW <http://www.hrw.org/node/93605
> report that ethnic groups such as
the Oromos tend to have less access to international aid through
donor-supported programmes, jobs and educational opportunities.
"Oromos are always linked to the Front," said a 24-year-old woman quoted in
the report. "As Oromos we can't get work or an education. They [the
government] will not allow us to develop."
Solomon of IOM said the activities of smugglers and their agents have driven
up migration from Ethiopia. "Smugglers come to villages and tell people
they'll get jobs [in the Middle East] and it's relatively easy," he told
IRIN. "There have been a number of arrests as part of a government effort to
crack down on this network, but there is a lot of money involved."
Local stories of success or failure can be even more persuasive than the
smugglers. In Lafaisa, one man is rumoured to have made it to Malta and to
be sending money home to his family, but more common are stories like that
Mohamed Mohamoud, who set off for Italy but spent seven months in various
Libyan jails, and another 18 months trying to earn enough money simply to
Failed attempts to migrate can be financially devastating for a household
that has pooled its resources and even sold property to raise the cash for
smugglers' fees. Mohamoud said he would not try again and discouraged others
from making the same mistake. "I'm an example for my village," he told IRIN.
"If I had succeeded, all the others would have gone."
Yet cautionary tales are not enough to counter the root causes of Ethiopia's
exodus, and even a negative personal experience often does not deter people
from trying again.
IOM is running a project in the Oromia Zone of Amhara in Ethiopia to reduce
migration by not only raising awareness of the risks, but by supporting
income-generating schemes, and providing youth training.
No such programme exists in Lafaisa and Mahamoud still wants to go to
Europe. "I will wait until the demonstrations [in Yemen] are over, then I'll
go back," he told IRIN, adding that he advises his students to do the same.
"I have no future in Ethiopia," he said. "I've seen Europe on TV, and it's
> Migrants risk all for
> Migrants targeted in
> Horn migrants beaten,
> Fresh challenges for
migrants in Yemen
"Even if I got a visa for Europe.I wouldn't go"
Photo: Kristy Siegfried/IRIN
JIJIGA, Abdirizak Mohamed Mohamoud, 30, returned to his home village of
Lafaisa, in the Jijiga zone of eastern Ethiopia, six months ago, after his
attempt to reach Europe and a better life turned into an ordeal. He talked
to IRIN, as well as a roomful of curious neighbours and friends, about his
experiences as a migrant in Libya.
> Full report
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Received on Tue Nov 22 2011 - 07:42:36 EST