More than 2,000 stranded African migrants who failed to reach the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia due to COVID-19 movement restrictions are currently being assisted by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), in Djibouti, Horn of Africa.
Humanitarian aid workers say they have arrived from Yemen over the last three weeks.
The migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia including children as young as eight-years-old, returned to Djibouti failed to reach their destination due to border closures, and extreme danger along this migratory route.
They arrived hungry, tired and in need of medical assistance after making the treacherous boat journey back across the Gulf of Aden, and then walking to the town of Obock through the Djiboutian desert where temperatures reach 40C.
Many were forced to pay smugglers who often abandon them in the desert without food and water. Several of the migrants said they witnessed others die along the way due to dehydration.
IOM has helped and treated hundreds of migrants along the way over the last few months.
IOM Djibouti and the government of Djibouti are providing emergency medical care, food, water, tents, counselling, and COVID-19 awareness and prevention since mobility restrictions imposed due to COVID-19 stranded thousands of migrants in Yemen leading to mass returns to Djibouti, a major country of transit for migrants in the region.
An additional 1,239 Ethiopian migrants have been stranded for months across Djibouti, unable to reach Yemen or return home.
A quarantine site established by the authorities with the support of IOM and other partners, have been set up to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading among themselves and their communities.
Djibouti’s Health Ministry has been providing COVID-19 tests to migrants in quarantine. It is an overwhelming situation with for a small country with a population of less than one million people, and fewer economic and human resources than most nations in the region.
Across the border in Ethiopia, which is home to many of the migrants, an estimated 8,700 have been received from Djibouti since the start of COVID-19. The Government of Ethiopia has been providing food, water, soaps, sanitary items, beddings and clothing, among other types of assistance for its returning nationals.
IOM in August launched an $84 million appeal to fund its Regional Migrant Response Plan for the Horn of Africa and Yemen (RMRP) to respond to the needs of migrants coming back to Africa from Yemen, the thousands affected in Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti and over 14,000 currently stranded in Yemen.
“Djibouti is facing a colossal humanitarian challenge for a small country,” Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s Regional Director, East & Horn of Africa, said from Obock.
“What is required is a unified response from the international community, governments in the region, and our partners in the Gulf nations to address the issue of young men and women risking their lives to reach the Gulf in search of jobs and opportunities.
‘’Until then we will continue to see these kinds of situations. That’s why IOM’s Regional Migrant Response Plan Appeal, supported by and including 27 other humanitarian partners assisting migrants along this route, is so important.”
Of concern to IOM is despite COVID-19 and its impact, some migrants are still trying to make the journey to Yemen, where they risk danger, abuse, and detention.
IOM is advocating humanitarian access to those in need of urgent aid and for the resumption of Voluntary Humanitarian Return flights to assist the many who wish to return home.