The Yemen Crisis Forces Tough Choices for Migrants in Djibouti

Mahamoud is from Hararge, Ethiopia and farmed to provide support to his wife and five children.

By Craig Murphy

Mahamoud is from Hararge, Ethiopia. In Hararge, the 25 year-old farmed in order to provide support to his wife and five children. In February of 2015, Mahamoud made the decision to move to Saudi Arabia seeking better opportunities and a better life for his family. He sold his land and paid a smuggler to get him to Djibouti.  His plan was to cross the Red Sea from Djibouti into Yemen and proceed onwards to Saudi Arabia.

In 2014, estimated 91,000 migrants arrived in Yemen from the Horn of Africa, among them, 80% were Ethiopian nationals who transited through Djibouti.  In the same year, 245 migrant deaths were recorded in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

Mahamoud says he knew this journey would be a difficult one, but he had heard about the higher value of the currency in Saudi Arabia and jobs.

“I wanted to try it and see for myself,” he says.

However, by the time he made it to the port of Obock, Djibouti, he was disheartened and had changed his mind about working in Saudi Arabia.

“It was so difficult on the road. We walked a lot and the smugglers treated us very badly. I didn’t want to continue.”

By the time current crisis broke out in Yemen Mahamoud was still in Djibouti.

“When we heard of the conflict we didn’t want to continue. We couldn’t continue.”

The conflict in Yemen had pushed prices up, including the fee for boat crossings from Djibouti. The smugglers demanded more money from Mahamoud which he was unable to pay. Mahamoud and many others ended up stranded in Obock, Djibouti until he found out that IOM runs a Migration Response Center (MRC) in Obock. The center tends to immediate needs of migrants as well as assisted voluntary return to their home countries. Mahamoud  decided he would go back to his country of Ethiopia.

After temporary accommodation at the MRC Mahamoud was part of a group of 98 Ethiopians who were transported back to Ethiopia on 23 April under IOM operation.

Talking to IOM staffers shortly before he boarded the bus and headed to Ethiopia, Mahamoud said, “The help provided by IOM is the reason I could save myself and my family, and I am thankful for that.”


T. Craig Murphy is an IOM Regional Project Coordinator in the Horn of Africa