The International Organization for Migration (IOM) last week assisted 25 stranded Ethiopians intercepted in Zambia while trying to reach South Africa to safely return home.
The returnees were among the 76 survivors found in a container truck that claimed the lives of 19 Ethiopian irregular migrants in Zambia in June 2016, IOM said. All of them are male between the ages of 18-30 and were on the road for up to nine months crossing borders of Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia.
IOM provided the migrants with return assistance as they did not have the means to return to Ethiopia. The assistance included an in-country transportation allowance to help them to get back to their regions of origin in Ethiopia. Asfaw (not his real name), one of the returnees, said: “A friend of mine travelled to South Africa some years ago. He called and convinced me that I should get there somehow. So I sold my cattle, left my job as a waiter at a grill shop/restaurant in Hossana (southern Ethiopia) and left for South Africa.”
Asfaw said the smugglers promised him a safe bus journey upon payment of the money required. The situation he faced, however, was far from what had been promised.
“I stayed for four months in different dormitories and in the bush until the smugglers eventually succeeded in arranging the promised bus transportation. There were 41 of us when we got to Zambia, then another batch of 49 Ethiopians joined us.” The 19-year-old recalled how 90 of them were then loaded into a container at the back of a truck.
“We knew that this was not a safe way to travel. But the smugglers had machetes and they were beating us with sticks and whips when we refused to get on board,” he explained.
Asfaw said that they were hidden behind a large pile of sacks filled with fish. “The temperature was hot, we were suffocating, the smell was terrible, some people collapsed and 19 died. We started banging on the container after the truck had travelled for a day and a half.”
In total, Asfaw said he paid 60,000 birr (approximately USD 3,000) to the smugglers. He explained that he had to borrow some of that money from his father. Despite his losses, he is glad to be back home and alive. “I will not look to the South ever again, let alone accept to travel under such conditions,” he said.
Girum (not his real name), another returnee, shared a similar story. “I had to pay 90,000 birr (approximately USD 4,500) to get there. I was a grade 11 student and had a small shop. I had to sell it to pay for my travel. It was a big mistake. Now I will go back to my school,” the 20-year-old said.
This year IOM has helped 79 Ethiopians to return home from Zambia. The number of irregular migrants thus far provided with voluntary return assistance from Africa’s southern migratory route is 159.
“That so many migrants continue to be lured by people smugglers to choose this irregular path further underscores the need to reach out to communities, some of them remote, with a clear message on the hazards of irregular migration,” said IOM Ethiopia Chief of Mission and Representative to the AU, ECA and IGAD Maureen Achieng.
IOM recently completed a monitoring mission to initiate the return of additional 165 stranded Ethiopians from Malawi. IOM’s evacuation operations out of Yemen also resumed last week, with 150 vulnerable Ethiopian migrants safely returning from Hodeidah, western Yemen, on 18 July.