• Rahel Negussie | Sr. Communications Assistant, IOM Ethiopia

Tseganesh and her friends dreamt of finding better opportunities in Dubai, a city in the United Arab Emirates. What they did not know was the long and dangerous journey ahead, where they would find themselves stranded in another country.

‘We made the decision to travel after failing the national exam that Ethiopian students take following their secondary school,’ said Tseganesh.

On the advice of a smuggler who led them to believe that Dubai offers excellent job opportunities and conditions, Tseganesh and her friends left Hadiya zone in southern Ethiopia with the hope of achieving a better life. The smuggler promised to facilitate their journey to the United Arab Emirates if they paid ETB 55,000 (USD 1,000) per person.

The smuggler promised to drive them to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, and then to arrange their flight to Dubai. Upon arriving in Addis Ababa, they were put in another car. They never saw the smuggler again.  

Tseganesh and her friends are at Tog-Wajalle MRC. Photo: IOM 2023/Rahel Negussie.

They continued their journey by road until they reached Jijiga, the capital of Ethiopia’s Somali Region, a few kilometres from the border with Somalia. From there, they were picked up by a bus, and driven across the border to Hargeisa in Somaliland.

‘We usually travelled at night, so we didn’t know where we were going. All we could see was the desert,’ said Tseganesh. ‘We stayed in a small room in Hargeisa for two months.’

The smugglers continued to promise them that they would be flying out one by one but later changed the story. They would have to cross the sea by boat.

After staying in Hargeisa for two months, Tseganesh and her friends were arrested and detained for four days along with many other Ethiopians.

‘We didn’t get enough food or water. We only got a piece of bread once a day and slept on the cold bare floor.’  

Out of despair and realizing they would not be able to continue with their dangerous journey, Tseganesh and her friends agreed to go back to their home country at the request of Somaliland authorities.  

They sought assistance at IOM Migration Response Center (MRC) in Tog-Wajalle on the border between Ethiopia and Somalia.

Over 5,106 migrants have received support from Tog-Wajalle MRC since its opening. Photo: IOM 2023/Rahel Negussie

The MRC was established in 2019 to respond to the needs of migrants who get stranded in their attempt to migrate to the Middle East using what is commonly referred to as the eastern migratory route from Ethiopia.

Through the five MRCs located in Metema, Moyale, Dire Dawa, Dewelle and Tog-wajalle, IOM works closely with local actors to support the Government of Ethiopia in its efforts to protect and assist migrants in need.

The MRCs facilitate the identification of migrants in vulnerable situations and ensuring that they receive appropriate and immediate support. Migrants are assisted with shelter, food, non-food items, health and psychosocial assistance, and information on regular migration pathways, among other types of assistance. Migrants wishing to return to their places of origin receive voluntary return and reintegration assistance.  

Protecting migrants in need requires strengthening local capacities. For example, in October 2023, IOM handed over pharmaceuticals and medical equipment to Tog-Wajalle health centre to support the access to health for migrants and the community.

"We usually travelled at night, so we didn’t know where we were going. All we could see was the desert."

Two days after their arrival in the MRC, they are now ready to safely return to their homes with IOM’s support. Photo: IOM 2023/Rahel Negussie.

Bawele Tchalim, Protection Programme Officer, stresses the need to continue collaborating with partners for migrant protection. “Vulnerable migrants have a wide array of urgent needs, it’s a fact. Supporting the government to respond to these needs requires working closely with different actors. Yet, the lifesaving assistance must be complemented by a longer-term assistance to offer migrants with opportunities in their communities and in their country to reduce the likelihood of migrants engaging in treacherous journeys.”

The services offered in the MRCs are made possible with support from Norwegian Ministry of Affairs, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) aligned to the Regional Migrant Response Plan (MRP) for the Horn of Africa and Yemen.