The flight, which was funded by a donation from the Netherlands, follows two other Dutch-funded charters on Tuesday 18 and Wednesday 19 last week carrying another 551 migrants. A third charter, carrying 89 medical cases and victims of trafficking, funded by the USA, left Yemen earlier this month.
The returnees represent less than a quarter of some 4,000 near destitute Ethiopians currently living in the open in and around Yemen’s north-western town of Haradh. All of them became stranded there after trying and failing to cross into Saudi Arabia in search of jobs.
IOM’s limited funding means that the most vulnerable, including women, children, the elderly and unaccompanied minors, are given priority on the flights back to Ethiopia.
IOM has a migrant response centre in Haradh designed to house up to 150 people. It is currently providing shelter to some 350 of mostly sick and infirm migrants.
The vast majority of the migrants leave poverty-stricken lives in Ethiopia in search of jobs in the Gulf. They embark on a dangerous journey through the Horn of Africa, across the Gulf of Aden and through conflict-ridden Yemen, with the help of smuggling networks.
Those lucky enough to survive the journey often find themselves stranded and destitute at the Saudi Arabian border, unable to progress further. The most vulnerable, including women and unaccompanied minors, live at risk of kidnap, exploitation and assault by smugglers and criminal gangs.
Since 2010 IOM has provided urgent medical assistance to over 35,031 Ethiopian migrants stranded in Yemen, and has helped over 9,000 of them to return home from Yemen.
But demand for urgent return assistance far outstrips the number of flights that IOM can provide. IOM Haradh staff says that at any given time there are up to 1,000 migrants asking for help to return to Ethiopia.
Meanwhile, the number of irregular migrants from the Horn of Africa arriving in Yemen continues to rise. According to UNHCR, 63,800 Ethiopians and Somalis arrived in Yemen by sea in the first seven months of this year, up from 48,700 in 2011. The proportion of Ethiopian migrants also rose. In 2011, a total of 103,000 Ethiopian and Somalis arrived, up from 53,000 recorded in 2010.