GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - More than 400 Ethiopian Migrants stranded in Yemen will be airlifted home this week. This is the first time since 2015 the International Organization for Migration has been given the go-ahead for this operation to resume.
The first group of Ethiopian migrants were flown home Monday. By the time this Voluntary Humanitarian Return operation or VHR ends on Thursday, the U.N. Migration Agency will have airlifted 418 migrants from Yemen to Ethiopia. More than a quarter of the passengers are minors.
The agency’s repatriation program was stalled shortly after Saudi Arabia began its bombing campaign against Houthi rebels in support of the government in March 2015. IOM says the operation was able to resume after the Saudi-led coalition and Ethiopian government gave it permission to access airports.
During the past few years, the IOM Voluntary Humanitarian Return operation has assisted many migrants to go home by sea. But agency spokesman Joel Millman notes returning the migrants by plane is a better, safer option.
“In 2018, IOM’s VHR program was able to assist 668 migrants to return to Ethiopia on ships across the Gulf of Aden. However, unstable weather conditions at sea combined with escalated fighting in and around the Al Hudaydah ports posed major operational challenges in previous return operations.”
Despite the ongoing conflict, poverty and desperation for a better life have caused a steady stream of migrants from the Horn of Africa into Yemen. But upon arrival most of the migrants hoping to find work in the Gulf countries find the borders closed to them. As a consequence, thousands of migrants have become stranded in Yemen in miserable conditions.
In 2017, nearly 100,000 migrants reached Yemen. IOM estimates the number of new arrivals will increase to 150,000 by the end of this year. Although Somalis and Eritreans are part of the mix, IOM reports the vast majority of those making the perilous journey to Yemen are Ethiopian nationals.