28 Nov 2022
  • Alemayehu Seifeselassie | IOM Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, 28 November 2022 – When Zainab first travelled from Ethiopia to Sudan three years ago, she was too young to settle on a career path. At only 17, her sole dream was to find an easy way of getting to Egypt, and then to continue further on to Europe where she could secure a well-paid job – or so she thought.

Like many other young people, Zainab fell prey to the lies told by smugglers: that crossing through Sudan and Egypt and then on to Europe was easy even without travel documents and that well-paid jobs were abundant and easy to find once there.

They soon got to know the painful realities of irregular migration.

Zainab struggled to make ends meet for the next three years, working as a housemaid in Sudan. She eventually managed to save just enough money to pay the smugglers to help her cross to Egypt.

Things went from bad to worse once she was detained by law enforcement officers right after getting caught crossing the border without travel documents. Zainab languished in jail for a total of eight months.

“During my time in prison, I decided to make a choice about what to do if I was ever released. I regretted going on this journey without any papers. It was a mistake for me to choose this path,” she says.

“I wanted to go back to my country and find a job. Home didn’t seem as attractive as the life that the smugglers deceptively promised, but at least I didn’t have to look over my shoulder at all times, worrying I might get tossed into prison again.”

Ethiopian returnees are welcomed at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa by IOM staff who assist them with onward transportation. Photo: IOM/Alemayehu Seifeselassie

While in prison, Zainab heard from other inmates about the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration programme offered by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). “When I heard about this assistance, I felt like I was given a second chance at life.”

According to Zainab, other female migrants from Ethiopia had stayed in prison for up to two years simply due to the language barrier. “Because we lived in Sudan and understood Arabic, we managed to help some people with whom we spent time in jail. They are now back in Ethiopia.”

As part of IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration programme, Zainab managed to safely return to Ethiopia and has since been assisted with cash to jumpstart her reintegration process. Her family is relieved that she has returned home safe and sound.

Even in jail, Zainab’s mind was always on her eventual return to Ethiopia and starting her own business. IOM’s return and reintegration support provided her with just that opportunity.

Zainab was born and raised in Nateri, a village near the town of Jima, which is known for its coffee production. Upon her return to Ethiopia, Zainab moved to Addis Ababa where she used her reintegration grant and the entrepreneurship training that she received to open a small café in the busy Kolfe neighbourhood.

Many returnees like Zainab decide to open small shops using the reintegration support received from IOM. Photos: IOM Ethiopia

Zainab says that the entrepreneurship training provided by IOM has been a real eye opener. “It gave me an idea about how I could run my own business and has given me an opportunity to learn from other entrepreneurs.”

Exchanging ideas with the other trainees is what made Zainab switch from her restaurant business idea to a café. “It’s good we had the opportunity to share our experiences with each other. That helped me get ideas about how to run a similar business, expand my business, and switch to something more profitable.”

Zainab wakes up early each day to bring water from the neighborhood tap. She prepares the coffee and warms up the place. Her hard work, coupled with her likeable nature, has ensured her café is always bustling with customers.

Months later, Zainab’s coffee shop is doing well, although she would like to move to an even busier neighborhood if she makes enough money for rent, she says. “I am now running a small café, but my plan is to save more money and find a business partner so that I can open a bigger one as well as a supermarket,” she explains.

Unlike before, she is now confident about her business skills. “I bought utensils and stocked up the shop, cleaned up the place and was ready to launch it, but I wasn’t sure that I could actually run it,” she says, reminiscing about the time she got cold feet right before opening her café.

“Then a couple of clients came and ordered tea. They paid five birr (approximately USD 0.095) and left a tip. So I said to myself: this is how it’s done; I was no longer afraid.”

Zainab is grateful for the entrepreneurship and business skills training she attended and feels that she now knows how to successfully run a business. Photo: IOM/Hiyas Bagabaldo

IOM’s assistance to Zainab and others like her was made possible through the project “Strengthening protection and assistance to vulnerable and stranded migrants in and transiting through North Africa (PROTECT II)” funded by the Government of the Netherlands.

This story was written by Alemayehu Seifeselassie, Communications Officer with IOM Ethiopia,

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