Long Road Ahead for Ethiopian Migrant Victims of Grenade Attack

Every year tens of thousands of migrants attempt to engage on a very risky trip across the Gulf of Aden, from the northern Somali port of Bossasso heading to the southern coast of Yemen. Most of them are Ethiopian, but large numbers are Somalis coming from the troubled regions in the south of the country.

Desperate and vulnerable, they are all looking for a better life. By the time they arrive in Bossasso they've already had a rough and expensive journey behind them after which they have little to lose. Many of them suffer abuse and exploitation at the hands of smugglers and all of them incur high debts and face extreme risks on the route. The last leg of the trip happens in make-shift overcrowded boats and the crossing leaves many hundreds dead, while the bodies of hundreds other are never found.

In Bossaso they re-group and prepare for this journey. There are several "transit places" where they congregate and stay close to each other. Such a place was the target of a grenade attack at the beginning of February that has killed 22 and injured more than 70 others.

Ababa is 26. When her one-year-old child died five years ago, she left the Gonder region in Ethiopia and headed for Addis Ababa to look for work. In Addis she met Holef and last year they decided to make the journey to Saudi Arabia, through Bossasso and Yemen. After a long journey through the dangerous and rough terrain of northern Somalia, they arrived at the port of Bossasso, the main hub for the smugglers organizing trips across the Gulf of Aden into Yemen. In the grenade attack Ababa lost both legs. Her husband lost one.

Abdifatah is from Bale, a province in the Oromo region of Ethiopia. He was in his 40's when his ox died making it impossible to cultivate the land so he left his family and six children behind and embarked on the journey to Yemen initially and then perhaps eventually Saudi Arabia. He was severely wounded in the grenade attack with a particularly serious open wound on his stomach.

Mohamed is an 18 year-old Oromo farmer from the Wallo region of Ethiopia. In the attack he suffered an open fracture on his leg and will require urgent surgery if he is to keep his leg.

Although they, along with another 18 seriously wounded Ethiopian migrants were taken to a hospital in Bossasso immediately after the attack, the lack of medical facilities there meant wounds have not been adequately treated or fractures set, leading to infections and a worsening of their conditions.

Like all the other Ethiopian migrants making the journey to Bossasso and beyond, they left their homes because they could not find work or because they could not make ends meet by farming their land in Eastern Ethiopia. All they had was their strength and their willingness to work which they hoped would help them make better money for them and their families in the richer countries of the Middle East.

Now they return home with amputated limbs or other severe physical traumas that will make it extremely difficult to provide for themselves, let alone their families.  But the return home is still something. Since the attack, they and many other Ethiopian migrants stranded in Bossasso unable to make the crossing now the sea conditions have worsened, have been desperate to return to Ethiopia.

IOM, in close cooperation with its partners in the international community, especially the UN, and the authorities in Bossasso and Garowe, the capital of Puntland, has coordinated an emergency evacuation of 33 of the most vulnerable of these victims of the grenade attack and their close relatives.

Before their departure to Dire Dawa in eastern Ethiopia, IOM began tracing and contacting the families of those it was bringing back but it's not an easy task when faced with extremely remote rural areas with very poor communication networks. The continued trauma the victims are experiencing has meant that some are still too shocked and nervous, making it impossible to trace their families so far. But the hope is that returning to Ethiopia will help them to recover and IOM to trace their families.

Twenty-one of them will nevertheless have to spend some time in hospital for urgent treatment and surgery before the process of rehabilitation can begin. Their individual needs based on their injuries and situation will necessitate a rehabilitation and reintegration programme specifically designed for them personally.

Working together with Ethiopian authorities, IOM will return all 33 to their final destinations home, but whichever way you look at it, it's a long road ahead.