During the final days of 2017, IOM, the UN Migration Agency succeeded in completing two movements of stranded Somalis and Ethiopians out of Yemen, despite immense security challenges and difficult sea conditions.
Two boats were deployed, one headed to Aden to evacuate Somali refugees, while the other went to Hudaydah to evacuate Ethiopians, who were considered especially vulnerable due to the dangers of rising violence near that port city.
The 27 December operation was the 19th assisted voluntary humanitarian return conducted by IOM out of the city of Aden sea port, taking 138 Somali men, women and children home in cooperation with UNHCR. With this final movement in 2017, IOM Yemen helped a total of 2,241 Somali refugees through its sub-office in Aden. The total number of Ethiopian migrants helped return home through Hudaydah seaport via Djibouti reached 746 people during 2017.
It took several attempts to move a second group, some 71 Ethiopians, all occurring within days of the Somali movement. Complications beyond the control of IOM delayed the movement until 31 December but at 4:30 PM on New Year’s Eve, an IOM boat successfully left for Djibouti.
The next morning (1/01/2018), maritime authorities informed IOM that heavy waves near Djibouti would prevent the continuation of the voyage, forcing IOM’s vessel to return to international waters near Yemen. Later that afternoon, authorities informed IOM its boat could set back on its course, ending what had become a long ordeal.
“It was very challenging to conduct movements out of Hudaydah seaport due to the security threats that are present in Yemen’s northern Governorates. Those require us to liaise with different counterparts and authorities as well as the coalitions,” said Hanan Hajori, of IOM Yemen’s Assistance and Protection unit in the Hudaydah sub-office.
Without such permission, return assistance might not happen. In addition, due to rough seas and weather a number of movements had to be cancelled several times. “At the end, migrants in Hudaydah were taken out safely despite of all these challenges,” Hajori added.
While most UN agencies deal with the challenges that come with shortages in funding, IOM Yemen’s additional concern lies in the paramount issue of the safety of migrants and refugees while they are in IOM’s care.
Providing food, shelter and medical assistance are key aspects of IOM’s operations. IOM must also deal with complex security situations and volatile changes on the ground that can derail weeks of preparations in a matter of seconds. Keeping up with a heavy demand for operational efficiency as well as psychosocial efforts to lift the spirits of the people under IOM care requires working day and night to effectively help migrants so they may reach their final destination safely.
“This process usually takes from five to six hours, if everything is going smoothly,” said Rabih Sarieddine, an IOM official directing the sea-borne operations. “Nevertheless, on many occasions, the movement can be delayed for hours due to security matters, such as poor coordination between the security cells on the ground and the coalition, or due to lack of resources at a port, say, where a captain isn’t available.”
None of these are easy passages. Embarkation at a collection/transit centre generally starts in the early morning hours before buses can move to a port. There, beneficiaries go through security and immigration checks, after which the IOM team begins assisting beneficiaries onto their vessel.
A journey from Aden to Berbera typically takes between 12 and 15 hours, depending on the sea conditions, Sarieddine explained.