Ethiopian deportees from Middle Eastern countries, 60 of whom came from Yemen, arrived at Bole International Airport on Monday, April 4, 2011, after escaping the economic crisis and political unrest in the region. The returnees, most of them adolescents and young adults, came back to their home country dejected and penniless.
Mebrahtab Hagos, 15, was visibly tired upon his return. In September 2010, he had left his home in Atsibi Wonberta Wereda, Tigray Regional State, with six friends. His family paid 6,000 Br for the planned trip to Saudi Arabia via Yemen where he was to work and send home remittances.
“I first went through Djibouti to Yemen with 28 other men, women, and children,” Mebrahtab told Fortune. “In Yemen, we were attacked by bandits who took my clothes and remaining Birr and extorted 213 dollars from my relatives in Saudi Arabia, whose telephone numbers I had with me. The bandits beat me until my relatives paid.”
Following his release, Mebrahtab was captured by Yemeni soldiers and taken to a provincial prison where he was held for six months. He endured starvation but experienced no violence from either his fellow prisoners or the guards.
Eventually, he was handed over to the Red Crescent and after a month he was sent back to Addis Abeba on a flight from Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, on Monday, April 4, 2011.
Pale and weak, beside him, was Hagzom Hailu, a childhood friend, who, like Mebrahtab, cannot speak Amharic but only Tigrigna. He had paid 5,000 Br for an earlier trip to Yemen in June 2010 and met up with Mebrahtab in prison where he was held for 10 months. He also endured the heat and starvation before being transferred to the custody of the Red Crescent and returned to Addis Abeba.
“I was beaten by bandits in the Yemeni desert who extorted money from my relatives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia,” Hagzom told Fortune. “I do not know how to return the money my family gave me for the transport.”
These stories were echoed by the other, mostly adolescent, boys and girls housed at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Centre, located in front of Bole International Airport Cargo Terminal Offices on Bole Michael Street.
Another such case was that of Ali Muhammad Ali, who said he was 15 but looked much younger. He had left for the Middle East with 10 of his friends from Chefa Robit Town of South Wollo Zone, Amhara Regional State. They used the Dessie–Asayta–Djibouti Road to eventually enter Yemen as a transit point into Saudi Arabia.
“I do not know what happened to my friends after we arrived in Yemen with about 140 other people on a boat and split up, but my journey afterwards was terrible,” Ali told Fortune. “I was robbed by bandits and apprehended by Saudi soldiers who left me in Hadad, a barren place in northern Yemen, where we survived on the generosity of the local people.