Voluntary Humanitarian Return Movements for Ethiopian Migrants Re-start in Sana’a

Sana’a – The International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) first Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) flight to depart from Sana’a this year is taking off today with 129 Ethiopian migrants on board.  The movement to Addis Ababa is an important lifeline for stranded migrants seeking a safe and dignified way to return home from Yemen. 

The flight is carrying migrants – including unaccompanied minors and those with medical conditions and other specific needs – who were left stranded as a result of insecurity and restrictions on their movement. 

“Migrants stranded in Sana’a have been left destitute and without food, shelter and other basic needs. Some have been waiting for an opportunity to return home for over a year,” said Matt Huber, IOM Yemen’s Acting Chief of Mission.  

“Thanks to the commitment of donors and authorities in Yemen and Ethiopia, more people are now able to take lifesaving VHR flights. We hope we can continue to ensure that migrants who would like to go home can do so in the months ahead.” 

More than 1,800 migrants stranded in Aden and Ma’rib have departed on VHR flights so far this year. IOM aims to support approximately 5,000 additional stranded migrants to voluntarily return home from the three locations in the coming months. 

IOM estimates that 43,800 migrants are currently stranded throughout Yemen, many are held under the control of dangerous smuggling networks. The vast majority hope to reach the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but are unable to continue their journeys.  

“I lost my sister on this journey, and I was burned and wounded in an attack. My journey was terrible, and I want to go home,” said Abeba*, a 27-year-old woman who is looking forward to reuniting with her eight-year-old son in Ethiopia.  

Many have become desperate to return home, often in the hands of the same smuggling networks and via the same risky boat journeys in which they arrived. Thousands of migrants have reportedly traveled by boat from Yemen to Djibouti and Somalia this year, according to IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM)

More than 40,000 migrants have landed on Yemen’s shores so far in 2022 according to DTM estimates. Thirty per cent are women and children who are at heightened risk of grave violations. 

“I was beaten by smugglers in Djibouti when I could not pay them. Another smuggler then offered to pay for my trip if I married him,” explained Etenesh*, an 18-year-old migrant who will depart on today’s flight. “Once we reached Yemeni shores, I was already pregnant. My husband left me without food or money. I walked for weeks to reach northern Yemen.” 

IOM provided humanitarian assistance to more than 84,000 migrants in Yemen last year. This included health care, relief items, psychosocial support and other protection services. 

IOM's support will continue after migrants arrive back home in Ethiopia. All returnees will be accommodated at the IOM Transit Centre in Addis Ababa, where further medical, psychiatric and psychosocial support will be given to those in need.  

Those who are ready to travel on to their families and communities will be assisted to do so. In cooperation with governmental child protection authorities and UNICEF, IOM will trace the families of unaccompanied migrant children and arrange their reunification.  

The VHR programme in Yemen is supported by the governments of Germany, Norway and Sweden, the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center and US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. In addition to flights, IOM provides registration and documentation services, medical consultations and safe accommodation to ensure the protection of traveling migrants prior to takeoff.  

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

Photo gallery of IOM’s response to migrants in Yemen. 

*Name has been changed 

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