One hundred and sixty Ethiopian migrants stranded in Yemen for months in dire conditions were flown home from Yemen to Ethiopia on Tuesday, according to the International Organization for Migration.
The migrants were returned home one day after at least 42 people died when a boat operated by smugglers capsized in the Gulf of Aden on its way to Djibouti. The boat was reportedly transporting some 60 migrants, including more than a dozen children, who were escaping conflict in Yemen.
The IOM says tens of thousands of impoverished migrants from countries like Somalia and Ethiopia make the perilous journey to Yemen every year in search of work in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
IOM spokeswoman Angela Wells says many never make it across the border and find themselves stranded in Yemen. She says more than 32,000 migrants, most from Ethiopia, are currently trapped in the country.
"Many of them are in precarious situations, sleeping rough without shelter or access to any services," Wells said. "Others are in detention or are being held by smugglers. The conditions of migrants stranded in Yemen have become so tragic that many feel they have no option but to rely on smugglers to return home."
Migrants pay smugglers large sums of money for dangerous journeys home that too often end in tragedy. Despite the risks, desperate migrants continue to test their luck. At least 20 people drowned last month en route to Djibouti, according to Wells.
"Since May 2020, over 11,000 migrants have returned to the Horn of Africa on dangerous boat journeys such as these, aided by smugglers," she said. "IOM's Voluntary Humanitarian Return program provides a lifeline to those stranded in Yemen. We call on all governments along the route to come together and support our efforts to allow migrants safe and dignified opportunities to travel home."
Since October, the IOM has registered more than 6,000 migrants in Yemen who need help getting home. The agency says thousands of other undocumented migrants are waiting for their nationality to be verified and travel documents provided so they too can return.