The International Organization for Migration is using community-based institutions and religious leaders in Ethiopia to educate rural and urban communities about the dangers of irregular migration.  The IOM campaign hopes to dissuade potential migrants from using smugglers networks to make the risky voyage across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from IOM headquarters in Geneva.

Jean-Philippe Chauzy, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, says some 1,400 irregular migrants, mainly Ethiopians and Somalis, lost their lives last year trying to migrate to Yemen. He says most died in un-seaworthy smugglers boats that went down in the Gulf of Aden.

The IOM reports the majority of Ethiopians using smugglers are from rural areas. They are often unaware of the perils and misery of the journey to Bossasso in Somalia's Puntland, the main departure point for Yemen and beyond.  Chauzy says the IOM has tried to educate people about the dangers, but that more must be done.

"So, the information campaigns that we have had in the past have been fairly successful, but we feel that working with community-based organizations, with faith-based organizations will also be crucial to getting the message across... to those who consider risking their lives, spending their savings on smugglers networks," explained Chauzy.

Chauzy describes horrific tales of smugglers physically and verbally abusing their human cargo.  He says Ethiopian passengers are often robbed and at times abandoned in the Somali desert with no money, papers, food or water. Women and young girls frequently are raped.

Chauzy says un-seaworthy vessels are used to cross the Gulf of Aden and many Somalis and Ethiopians have drowned after being thrown overboard by the smugglers.

Nevertheless, he tells VOA Ethiopians who are fleeing abject poverty are willing to take the risks.

"There is also this myth that if you make it to Yemen or if you make it to the Gulf countries, you have chances of sending money back to the family, of helping the family that has stayed back home.  So, people will follow a dream.  They will take huge risks," he said. "Now, there is obviously a much darker side to this.  Because, for instance, many women and girls who have made it to Yemen, who have made it to the Gulf countries find themselves in trafficking networks.  In other words, they are exploited mostly for labor."

Chauzy says the community-based campaign aims to find local solutions to address the problem of irregular migration in addition to raising awareness of its dangers.  He says one of the approaches is to try to interest Ethiopians abroad to contribute money for development projects back home.

If people can find a way to make a living at home, he says they will not be tempted to go elsewhere in search of a better life.