• Alemayehu Seifeselassie | Communication Officer, IOM Ethiopia

Addis Ababa – When 19-year-old Awol Jemal was a kid, he used to dream of pursuing his education and becoming a medical doctor. As he grew up, a series of events, including parching of his family’s farmland, and the eruption of a conflict in the Tigray region in Northern Ethiopia where he is from, made it hard to realise his dream.

Two years ago, Awol left his hometown to go to the Middle East in search of work hoping he would find a well-paying job to support his family.

The promises he was given by the smuggler who facilitated his trip were too tempting. Being the eldest son, Awol felt the urge to be a shining light for his family in what seemed like a bleak future.  The family had always eked out a living working on a small crop field.

“I have heard of some people from my town who have worked in the Middle East for years and returned with money to buy a taxi and run a business. I thought I could do the same,” says Awol. “I guess things were easier back at the time they went to the Middle East,” he lamented.

Awol took the treacherous journey through the desert from Afar Regional State of Ethiopia to Djibouti, and Yemen aiming to reach the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

“When I left my hometown, there was only one of my neighbours with me. I thought it was only the two of us from our hometown. However, on the boat from Djibouti to Yemen, there were 300 people tightly packed,” said Awol recalling how he was suffocated while on the overcrowded boat.

Awol and the other migrants thought they would have an easier crossing into KSA once they arrived in Yemen. Instead, they found themselves in a desert in Yemen and at the mercy of traffickers who held them for ransom.

Awol Jemal a returnee from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Photo IOM/Mehalon Lule

“Many were beaten and tortured at the Mishwars (makeshift detention camps). I had to make a phone call and ask my parents to bail me out from the hands of the torturers.”

Even though Awol survived the torture from the traffickers, he had to pay the smugglers USD 850 to help him cross to KSA. Part of this money came from his family savings and borrowing from friends. In KSA, he was detained for almost one year.  

“My family was very worried. They did not know how I was, or if I was alive at all. Now that communication is restored, I have called my family from Addis Ababa. They were glad to hear that I am alive and well. I am also glad that they are doing ok.”

When Awol returned from KSA, he did not know where to stay or how he would survive.

“I had not changed my clothes for a year. I did not have any money. Here in Addis Ababa, I was provided with food, shelter, and clothing,” says Awol referring to the assistance he received at the Transit Centre operated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Aside from the return assistance, Awol was also enrolled for vocational training.

“IOM works with different partners in vocational and technical skills development,” says Pekka Marjamaki, from IOM Ethiopia’s Migration Management Unit.

“These trainings are essential in the reintegration of migrants. Depending on the availability of funding, the organization also provides livelihood support for returnees to set up their own business when they return to their hometowns,” added IOM’s Marjamaki.

Bright Star Relief and Development Association is one of IOM’s partners in implementing technical trainings in Ethiopia. As part of this programme, 13 returnees from KSA were provided with training on tailoring and hair beauty.

Ethiopian returnees from the Gulf States are provided with onward transportation allowance and accommodation support at the IOM Ethiopia Transit Centre in Addis Ababa. Photo IOM/Mehalon Lule

“We were given the option to choose between tailoring and hairstyling. I liked tailoring better, so I attended that. It was really nice,” he explains. “We were also given a business entrepreneurship training which gave us an idea on how to run our business well. I am now confident that I can make clothes for men and women. I want to gain a bit more experience working with an experienced tailor, I can then set up my own tailor shop. All that is missing now is a sewing machine. I just need to work and save a bit or rent a machine, and I will get there.”

IOM’s reintegration support was made possible with funding from the Governments of Netherlands and France.

This support is part of IOM’s Regional Migrant Response Plan (MRP) for the Horn of Africa and Yemen. Through this migrant-focused humanitarian and development response for vulnerable migrants from the Horn of Africa, MRP provides an essential strategic framework to ensure a wholistic approach to addressing migrants’ protection needs, risks and vulnerabilities. 

SDG 1 - No Poverty
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities