74 stranded Ethiopian migrants return from Tanzania

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) assisted 74 Ethiopian migrants stranded in Tanzania to safely return back home in Ethiopia on Thursday, 9 June. En route to South Africa, all male migrants comprising 53 adults and 21 unaccompanied minors had been intercepted in Tanzania, shortly after crossing the Kenyan border irregularly.

“I overheard a smuggler making travel arrangements for clients. Intrigued, I asked her about the whole process. She responded with certainty that it was all legal and that I would earn lots of money. I decided to go and she charged me 100,000 birr (around 5,000 USD) for the trip”, 22 year-old Eshetu Abako explains the modus operandi of the unscrupulous smugglers which depleted his four-year savings in less than a week. “To raise the amount, I had to work four years then sell my motor cycle and my small kiosk which gained profits of 800 Birr (40 USD) per week”, lamented Eshetu. Similarly, 21 year-old Teketel Kassa handed over his 75,000 birr (3,750 USD) savings to a smuggler in the hopes of arriving to South Africa to lead a better life. “I was the first born child and my father passed away when I was young. As the bread winner of the family, it was becoming impossible to survive with the 1,800 birr I was earning every month - working as a machine operator in a wood workshop. With house rent increasing, and food prices inflating, I had to give South Africa a try”.

Both suffered the same unimaginable ordeal: “the smuggler promised us the required visa, transportation by bus and sleeping arrangements in different places. But it was a scam, we were locked-up in airtight containers on board packed boats. We were suffocating, some of our friends started to collapse, so we started to pound on the containers and screamed for our lives. That was how we were discovered at the Tanzanian border and imprisoned thereafter”. 

After serving their term in prison, they were released and were granted a seven-day visa. They started their journey back to Ethiopia on foot. However, upon reaching the Kenyan border, they were intercepted by the Kenyan border patrol who incarcerated them once more. “After our release, all we wanted was to go back home”, explains Eshetu recollecting his devastation caused by the consecutive tribulations he faced. Fortunately for Eshetu and his countrymen, he had learned enough Swahili while serving his term in prison and effectively pleaded their case. The Judge revoked their second sentence and they were free to go.

Despite losing their savings, both returnees are thankful to be alive and are enthused in reclaiming their lives and starting anew. Eshetu states with resolve: “now that I have lived through all this hardship and lost all my belongings, I will not try this path again”.

 “These returnees are among the lucky ones for whom IOM has managed to secure the funds to provide the much needed support, thanks to the generous funding from the donors. This southern irregular migratory route is becoming one of the major routes followed by irregular migrants where we come across youthful Ethiopians stranded under harsh conditions.  IOM in the recent past has also assisted a few groups of irregular Ethiopian migrants for their voluntary return from Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. However, due to funding constraints, IOM is yet to fully respond to the requests that come from migrants and governments”, states Abrham Tamrat, Senior Assistant Program Manager in IOM Ethiopia.

Upon their arrival in Addis Ababa, the adult returnees were provided with temporary accommodation, medical support, reinsertion allowance and transportation to their respective hometowns. The 21 unaccompanied minors are at the IOM Transit Center in Addis Ababa awaiting family tracing and reunification support which is carried out in collaboration with the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs of Ethiopia and UNICEF.

IOM worked with the Governments of Tanzania and Ethiopia to facilitate the return of these migrants. This operation was funded by the International Cooperation and Development – European Commission (DEVCO) under the project ‘Addressing the needs of vulnerable stranded migrants’.

IOM is currently coordinating with the Governments of Ethiopia, Zambia and Yemen for expediting the return of hundreds of additional stranded Ethiopian irregular migrants this month.

For further information, please contact Alemayehu Seifeselassie at IOM Ethiopia, Tel: +251.11.6611117 (Ext. 455), Mobile: +251.91.163-9082, Email: salemayehu@iom.int