Over 1,400 Stranded Ethiopian Migrants Arrive from Tanzania

ADDIS ABABA – The costs of dangerous, sometimes lethal passages some irregular migrants make in Africa can be measured in many ways: in currencies, even in lives.

Tamrat and Debebe – two young men newly returned to their native Ethiopia – measure their hardships in years.

They’re not alone. In fact, they’re among 463 Ethiopian migrants already brought home this month thanks to the cooperation of the Governments of Tanzania and Ethiopia, working together to facilitate their release and return while the International Organization for Migration (IOM) with the European Union (EU) provided the post-arrival assistance. The most recent return flight arrived Monday.

Since childhood, Tamrat had dreamed of becoming a doctor or an engineer. As he did not make it to college, he decided to migrate and try working in South Africa instead.

A smuggler promised the 26-year-old he would travel to Kenya by bus and then fly the rest of the way south. Like most migrants on Africa’s so-called Southern Route, Tamrat paid between 100,000 and 180,000 birr (USD 3,150 and 5,600) for the journey.

Encouraged by more successful peers, many Ethiopian migrants – most hailing from the southern part of the country – dream of going to South Africa for work.

But Tamrat’s dream was shattered when the lorry in which he was being smuggled – along with 65 others – attracted the attention of authorities.

Even at that, he conceded, he considers himself lucky. “If we had not been intercepted by the police, some of us would have died of suffocation,” the young man said.

Still, he regrets his choice. “I was in prison for three years after the truck I was smuggled in was intercepted by the police,” he explained.

Debebe, another returnee from southern Ethiopia, spent four years in a Tanzanian detention.

He was a street cobblestone carver before leaving Ethiopia, also to chase his dream working in South Africa. Debebe paid 150,000 Birr (USD 4,500) to a smuggler, explaining he took 100,000 birr from his savings, borrowing the remaining 50,000 birr from his family.

Tamrat and Debebe are among the first of a total of 1,400 who are scheduled to be returned this way—all Ethiopians being brought home from Tanzania in the coming weeks, according to IOM.

The returns are supported by the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa (the EU-IOM Joint Initiative), with migrants being flown from Dar es Salam to Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport on three Ethiopian Airlines flights.

The Government of Ethiopia covered the cost of the returnees’ airfare.

“Irregular migration is not only costing many Ethiopians their savings or those of their family, but also their lives,” said Hugo Genest of IOM Ethiopia.

Image: migrants from Tanzania receive onward transportation allowance at IOM’s Transit Centre in Addis Ababa. Photo: IOM/Alemayehu Seifeselassie