Hundreds of Ethiopian migrants are stranded in conflict-torn Yemen, unable to work for better wages and without the means to get back to their home.
Tens of thousands of Ethiopians head to Arabian Peninsula countries each year, seeking better work opportunities. Often, they undertake a perilous journey, and end up being trafficked and stranded along the way.
Roman, who first went to Saudi Arabia at 18, said that despite getting gainful employment, working conditions were extremely challenging.
“There were two of us working together and then my co-worker left,” said Roman. “When she left, I was overwhelmed with a lot of work.”
Roman said there was no rest, and she was not able to eat.
“I couldn’t even wash my clothes, my feet,” she said. After that, she said, “I escaped from the house.”
IOM halts returns
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which oversees voluntary humanitarian returns from Yemen, recently paused the return of migrants from Ethiopia’s Tigray and Amhara regions due to insecurity in the two regions.
The IOM cannot stop the migrants from returning to Ethiopia but is currently not facilitating their return to Tigray and Amhara regions.
Ethiopian migrants protested that decision in front of an IOM facility in the Yemeni city of Aden last week, which led to fighting and the deaths of an unconfirmed number of people.
Tewodrose Tirfe, chairman of the Amhara Association of America, an Amhara rights advocacy group, said the decision is unilaterally the Ethiopian government’s and is a discriminatory policy, which has singled out migrants who have Amhara and Tigrayan ethnic roots.
“These Ethiopians can be repatriated back to their country and be … provided services, housing and other services that they need in Addis Ababa and other parts of the country,” said Teodrose. “Just because they are Amharas they do not have to return, they do not have to go to the Amhara region and Amharas live all across all of Ethiopia.”
The two-year war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region came to an end in November of last year, after a peace deal was signed between Tigrayan forces and the federal government.
This year, another conflict started in the country’s second most-populous region, the Amhara region, home to a regional militia known as Fano.
In early August, the Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency in the Amhara region, following open fighting.
Poor economy drives migrants
Messay Mulugeta, an associate professor at Addis Ababa University, said that there needs to be an economic solution to dissuade migrants from taking unsafe journeys.
“Even though there are other reasons people leave, most of it comes from economic issues,” he said. “If there were job opportunities, and if there was a larger economy that could accommodate everyone, then migration might still continue, but it would be possible to be done in a professionally safe way.”
A recent report from Human Rights Watch said Saudi border guards killed hundreds of Ethiopian migrants and asylum-seekers who tried to cross the Yemen-Saudi border between March 2022 and June of this year.
The rights group said the shootings could amount to crimes against humanity.
The Ethiopian government has announced an investigation into the alleged killings. The Saudi government has denied the accusations.