For the first time ever, 150 Ethiopian migrants are flying to Addis Ababa on a Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) flight from Yemen’s conflict-affected Ma’rib governarate, the UN migration agency, IOM, said on Thursday.
It is the first of several flights that the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has planned to help 900 Ethiopians flee the Arabian Peninsula in the coming month.
“Migrants stranded in Ma’rib are living in fear,” said Christa Rottensteiner, IOM Yemen’s Chief of Mission.
“Many are under the control of smuggling groups who subject migrants to exploitation and violence.”
Keeping flights aloft
While thousands wait in dire conditions for this same chance to return home, IOM requires $7.5 million to keep the flights running from Ma’rib and Aden.
“The cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of helping those who are stranded and desperate to leave a dire situation,” said Ms. Rottensteiner.
With its urban centre located some 25 kilometres from the nearest frontline, Ma’rib has been one of the main hotspots of Yemen’s seven-year conflict.
The governorate faces the highest levels of displacement in the country, having had nearly one million Yemenis displaced there since the start of the conflict.
In recent years, it has also become a transit point for migrants making their way toward Saudi Arabia.
Stranded and threatened
An estimated 4,500 migrants stranded in Ma’rib have been unable to cross dangerous frontlines to reach their destination, or held by smugglers against their will for prolonged periods.
Some have been seeking a way to safely leave Yemen for two years.
Women migrants in Ma’rib are particularly vulnerable, frequently reporting violations, including sexual violence.
While living without access to adequate healthcare, food and other basic needs, some fall pregnant and must find ways to care for infants.
Protecting traveling migrants
In addition to flights, IOM is providing registration and documentation services, medical consultations, as well as safe accommodations, to ensure the protection of travelling migrants prior to take-off.
Upon arrival, they are also provided with accommodation at the IOM transit centre, cash for onward travel to their home community, family tracing and reunification, medical screening and psychosocial support.
In responding to the needs of the returnees, IOM has aligned its humanitarian assistance and protection services with the 2022 Regional Migrant Response Plan for the Horn of Africa and Yemen.
“We urgently need greater support from donors to help move people out of danger’s way,” said IOM Yemen’s mission chief.
The United States and Norway are supporting scheduled VHR flights from Ma’rib.