ADDIS ABABA – At least 140 Ethiopian migrants who were stranded in Yemen have been repatriated to their homeland on Tuesday.
Today’s repatriation signals the restart of the operation to bring Ethiopian migrants back from the war-torn country by the government and its partners.
“This flight is a vital lifeline for migrants who have been stranded for months on end in unsafe conditions,” said António Vitorino, Director General of UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
“In the coming months, we hope to see more migrants able to safely go home to their loved ones in this way,” he added.
Due to COVID-19 induced mobility restrictions, the number of migrants from East Africa has significantly reduced from over 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020.
But thousands of migrants remain stranded with little access to basic services or protection, according to the UN Migration Agency.
Unable to continue across Yemen to Saudi Arabia, it said many stranded migrants lack shelter, water and food. Migrants also have been at increasing risk of experiencing xenophobia, exploitation and detention over the last year.
“I came to Yemen to make it to Saudi Arabia, but I was not successful,” Mohammed, a 25-year-old man, travelling on the return flight.
“I can’t describe my situation here, as it has been very difficult. I have been homeless and poor. I am happy to be going home but I have nothing to bring back to my family. I will never leave again.”
The recent deadly fire accident in a detention facility for Migrants has forced IOM to renew its call for Ethiopia to restart its voluntary humanitarian Return program, which has been on hold since the start of the pandemic.
“I am thankful to the governments of Yemen and Ethiopia for working with each other to help this group of migrants,” added Director General Vitorino.
“The recent tragedy in the Sana’a holding facility highlighted the vulnerability of migrants in Yemen and underlined the importance of acting to protect them.”
Since 2020, IOM said its teams in Aden registered over 6,000 migrants expressing a wish to return to Ethiopia. In December, the Government of Ethiopia visited the ancient coastal city and verified the nationality of 1,100 people, the first step of the voluntary returns process.
The remaining migrants from this group are expected to travel in coming weeks. Additionally, thousands of other migrants remain stranded elsewhere in Yemen, including Ma’rib, where IOM hopes to extend its returns efforts soon, it added.
In Ethiopia, IOM is also supporting the government-run COVID-19 quarantine facility set up to accommodate the returnees in Addis Ababa and provides cash and other assistance.