Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

Cautionary migration tales are no deterrent

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 22 November 2011
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Cautionary migration tales are no deterrent, 22 November 2011, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Ethiopians are on the move. Not only are more rural people relocating to towns and cities, but the number of Ethiopians leaving the country has also ballooned in the last few years.

Many are trying to reach Saudi Arabia via Yemen, while thousands of others head for South Africa, Israel and Europe, crossing deserts and seas and placing their lives in the hands of smugglers who often have little regard for their well-being.

Most of the migration from Ethiopia is undocumented, so accurate numbers are hard to come by, but the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported in 2010 that in Yemen alone nearly 35,000 of newly arrived migrants were Ethiopians, accounting for two-thirds of all new arrivals that year. Between January and October 2011, almost 52,000 Ethiopians made their way to Yemen.

Refugees from Somalia follow similar routes, often using the same smugglers, but their reasons for undertaking these dangerous journeys are more apparent: Somalia has been plagued by armed conflict for nearly two decades and is now in the midst of a famine.

Ethiopia is not engaged in a civil war, and although parts of the country have been hard hit by drought, it is one of the world's largest recipients of development aid. However, it also has one of Africa's largest populations - an estimated 75 million - with a growing rate of youth unemployment and a shortage of job opportunities.

"The main reason people migrate from Ethiopia to Yemen is because of need - they go there [Saudi Arabia] to earn money," said Daud Elmi, 28, who left his village of Lafaisa in eastern Ethiopia to find work in Saudi in 2006.

Instead, he spent a year in a refugee camp in Djibouti, and another three months in a camp in Yemen, avoiding arrest by claiming to be a refugee from Somalia. After failing to earn enough money to cross into Saudi Arabia, he finally returned home.

Elmi advises others in his town who are planning to migrate to Yemen or Saudi not to take the risk, but a number still do. "Everyone goes there to improve his life," he told IRIN. "What we earn here is hand-to-mouth - we can't save. If you go there and send money home, you can build a house, start a business or help your relatives."

Tagel Solomon, coordinator of irregular migration programmes at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), confirmed that Ethiopians usually migrate in search of economic opportunities.

Most are young men like Kadar Mowlid Mahamoud, 23, who teaches English and computer skills. He set off from Lafaisa in 2008, "seeking a better life" in Europe, but was lucky to make it through Somaliland, a self-declared state on the Gulf of Aden, and Yemen. He ran out of water near the Saudi Arabian border and resorted to drinking his own urine, only to be robbed at knifepoint shortly after crossing.

Search Refworld