Helping Vulnerable Migrants Return Home: Kebede’s Story

Kebede (name changed) was a student in Grade 11 in Wokru, Mekele, Ethiopia, when he began contemplating a journey to Europe in search of a better education to help him realize his dream of becoming a software engineer. After deliberation, Kebede decided he had no choice but to leave his country and attempt to travel to Europe via Sudan and Libya in 2014.

He met some friends in school who were also considering leaving Ethiopia for similar reasons. “This made me happy as I felt that I had found partners,” Kebede recalls.

At the time, his family knew nothing of his plans, and his father was living in South Sudan, running a small business in order to send money back to his family in Mekele.

After selling their belongings, such as laptops, Kebede and his friends began their journey, leaving Ethiopia through Sudan. He and his two friends joined a group of 25 other migrants – Ethiopians and Eritreans.

While traveling in Sudan, the journey quickly turned dangerous. They were abandoned by a smuggler who took their money in exchange for a false promise to help them get to Khartoum. Some of the group were later kidnapped by armed men at night.

Somehow Kebede and his friends managed to make it to Khartoum, where they met Ethiopian families who gave them food and shelter; Kebede stayed there for one month. His friends continued on the journey and made it to Germany via Libya. However, he does not know what happened to the rest.

During the month in Khartoum, Kebede began to reconsider his decision:  “What if I lose my life? Am I really going to get a better life? I had everything in my homeland. I ate three times a day, I attended school.”

He spoke often to his friends who had continued on to Europe, and they told him they had found little to do in Germany: “We eat, we sleep,” they said. After reflection, Kebede made the decision to return to his family in Ethiopia.

He travelled from Khartoum to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, to stay with his father, who had been very concerned for his son’s safety and was overjoyed to see him again.

With the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in South Sudan and Ethiopia, Kebede travelled back to Ethiopia in August 2015, along with other vulnerable migrants stranded in South Sudan. Kebede’s father says he is now back in school and doing well.

“Now I don’t see anything else but my country. In these nine months of journey, I experienced many things, both positive and negative. I learned a lot, including being proud of what I have.”