News / The Diaspora / The Homeland

Ethiopian migrants brave Yemen war for dream of Saudi jobs

By JOSH WOOD,  The National   MAY 30, 2015

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A man from Ethiopia covers his face as he waits with other illegal immigrants for a boat to cross into Yemen outside the town of Obock, in north Djibouti Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

OBOCK, Djibouti — Every day refugees fleeing the war in Yemen arrive in Djibouti, pulling into ports aboard putrid livestock boats, repurposed cargo ships and any other vessel that will carry them. But as thousands cross the Gulf of Aden to this tiny nation on the Horn of Africa, a steady trickle of desperate migrants make the perilous journey the other way, hoping to traverse war-torn Yemen and find jobs in prosperous Gulf countries.

“It doesn’t seem there are many things that stop these migrants,” said Chris Horwood, coordinator of the Nairobi-based Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat, which monitors migration trends in the Horn of Africa.

Of the 92,000 migrants who headed from Africa to Yemen last year, 80 to 85 per cent were from Ethiopia, Mr Horwood said.

Between 30 and 50 Ethiopians leave northern Djibouti for Yemen every night, said Burhan Mohammad Abdul, the manager of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) office in the town of Obock in northern Djibouti.

“The problem with the migrants is that they’re not aware of this war going on in Yemen,” he said.

Even when they are told about the war, it usually does not help.

“Whatever we tell them, they think we are just telling them to stop them from going there,” said Mr Abdul. “They just listen to the smugglers.”

At its closest point, Djibouti is just 32 kilometres from Yemen and has long been a transit country for African migrants – mostly Ethiopians – seeking jobs in Saudi Arabia.

Read the full story on The National

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