Hundreds of migrants return to Ethiopia via IOM’s first voluntary return flights from Yemen in 2022

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has resumed its lifesaving Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) operations from Yemen to Ethiopia this month and aims to assist at least 6,750 Ethiopian migrants departing from the conflict-affected country in the coming months.

More than 600 Ethiopian migrants — including 60 unaccompanied migrant children — have so far arrived in Addis Ababa from Aden on the first three VHR flights of the year. Additional flights are scheduled to depart from Yemen to Ethiopia in the coming weeks, but greater support is urgently needed to help all those wishing to return.

Thousands of stranded migrants in Yemen have expressed their wish to voluntarily return to Ethiopia. IOM is appealing for USD 7.5 million to provide them with safe, dignified and voluntary return assistance, as well as health and protection support.

IOM in Yemen arranges the flights, offers pre-departure counselling, secures travel documents and liaises with authorities to ensure safe passage and transit. Upon arrival in Ethiopia, returnees are provided with food, temporary accommodation, medical assistance, counselling and other services.

“Migrants transiting through or stranded in Yemen are some of those most affected by the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country,” said Christa Rottensteiner, IOM Yemen’s Chief of Mission. “They endure life-threatening situations and arrive daily at IOM’s response centres after experiencing inhumane treatment such as arbitrary detention, forced transfers, exploitation and torture. VHR is the only option for safe return from Yemen and is a lifeline for thousands of stranded migrants.”

Ibrahim, one of the migrants who returned to Ethiopia last week, said: “I was shot in the leg by smugglers. After everything that happened to me, I’m happy to go back to my family and I advise others to avoid this dangerous path.”

Meanwhile, in a separate operation, IOM is working closely with partners to assist the Government of Ethiopia as the country continues to receive thousands of Ethiopians deported from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). More than 25,000 Ethiopian migrants have been returned by Saudi Arabia since 30 March following an agreement between the governments of Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia.

In the coming months, a further 75,000 Ethiopian migrants will be returned under the current operation. A coordinated multi-sectoral response is critical to ensure returnees receive essential services such as medical care, food, shelter, and psychosocial support as well as specialized protection services to alleviate their immediate needs, risks and vulnerabilities and enable their return home in safety and dignity.

Greater funding is needed to provide vital humanitarian support to the returning migrants. IOM and Migrant Response Plan for the Horn of Africa and Yemen (MRP) partners are appealing for USD 11 million to be able to provide post-arrival assistance to the returnees.

Since 2017, the KSA has returned close to half a million Ethiopians. There are hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians currently residing in the Kingdom, according to Ethiopian authorities, and they may need greater assistance upon arrival in Ethiopia should they also be sent back.

IOM’s humanitarian assistance and protection services in response to the needs of the returnees are aligned with the Regional Migrant Response Plan for the Horn of Africa and Yemen, 2022. The MRP aims to address the needs of migrants in vulnerable situations and host communities in countries situated along the Eastern Migratory Route, located between the Horn of Africa and Yemen, with the generous financial support of the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration; the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency; and the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.

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