On 16 March, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) supported the voluntary return of 140 Ethiopian migrants from Aden, Yemen. This was the first flight from Yemen to Ethiopia under IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The last VHR flights to Addis Ababa took place in early March 2020, days before the global pandemic was officially declared causing the programme to Ethiopia to be put on hold.
Despite a reduction in the number of migrants arriving in Yemen — from 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020 — the dangers they face have drastically increased over the past year. Unable to continue across Yemen to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), many stranded migrants lack shelter, water and food. Migrants also have been at increased risk of experiencing xenophobia, exploitation and detention over the last year.
In total, IOM has registered over 6,000 stranded migrants who wish to avail of the Organization’s return support. In December, the Government of Ethiopia sent a delegation to Aden to verify an initial group of 1,100 returnees. The flight was the first in the initial group, with the remaining expected to take place in the coming weeks and months. Additionally, thousands of other migrants remain stranded elsewhere in Yemen, including Ma’rib, where IOM hopes to extend its return efforts soon.
Prior to departure, IOM carries out medical and protection screenings to ensure that returnees are fit to travel, while those with special needs are identified and supported. The Organization also provides clothing and hygiene items to those in need.
In coordination with the Ethiopian government, IOM supports the government-run COVID-19 quarantine facility set up to accommodate the returnees in Addis Ababa and provides cash assistance, essential items and onward transportation assistance to home communities. The Organization also supports family tracing and the reunification of unaccompanied migrant children. Across the Horn of Africa and Yemen, IOM provides life-saving support to migrants through health care, food, water and other assistance.