Contributors: Chissey Mueller, Heba Al-Dhurasi, Bassam Farhan of IOM Yemen - Editor: Hajer Naili
For a considerable amount of time, Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, has been a transit and host country for thousands of migrants, many of whom are unaccompanied boys from the Horn of Africa, hoping to find work in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. Although Yemen has struggled for years to address child protection issues, the conflict that began in late March 2015 has set back any progress achieved. Children – including migrant children -- have been greatly impacted by the conflict, suffering injuries and deaths. Additionally, children are being recruited for military activities and by criminal networks to smuggle goods over borders or are being forced into labor, domestic servitude, and sexual exploitation.
So far this year, 25 percent of the migrants that have been assisted by IOM in Yemen were unaccompanied migrant children. They were mainly Ethiopian boys between the ages of 14 and 17, who were in need of urgent life-saving assistance and protection. They had traveled from Ethiopia overland through Djibouti, and sometimes Somalia, before crossing the sea to Yemen. Often times, they were abducted, injured or shot, held captive, abused, exploited, and robbed, while on their journey. The IOM Mission in Yemen provides these young migrants with health care, temporary shelter, food and drinking water, as well as core relief items such as clothing and hygiene kits. The mission also works with them to identify and understand their vulnerabilities and needs. For those who want to go home, IOM facilitates their return, making sure they are safe, all their rights are protected and they are able to reunite with their families.
These are three short stories of unaccompanied migrant children assisted by IOM mission in Yemen.
Othman left his family because, he says, he was angry with his mother. Four months ago, he met a smuggler who had offered to take him to Saudi Arabia. Othman had no money to pay him, so he stole it from his mother. That is how he was able to leave his hometown in Ethiopia. Unaware of the trap, Othman did not realize that from that moment he had put his life at the mercy of unscrupulous smugglers. Upon his arrival in Yemen, Othman was sold to another smuggler who held him at a secret location for two months. During this time, Othman was beaten, burnt and tortured. He was forced to call his mother to send ransom money in order to be released. Othman’s mother could only secure a part of it. Othman’s life was greatly in danger. However, as the smuggler was unsuccessful in his attempts to extort money from Othman’s family, he eventually gave up. Luckily, Othman was let go alive. Traumatized and weakened by several weeks in detention, Othman longs to hear his mother’s voice again. “I shouldn’t have trusted them. It was the wrong thing to do,” says Othman. Othman will soon be reunited with his family. “I want to go back to school and become an engineer,” he says.
Adam was naïve enough to believe that he would be traveling for free to Saudi Arabia where he would make a considerable amount of money. The offer was appealing but certainly too good to be true. Adam was walking to school when he was approached by a smuggler. Tempted and in need of improving his living conditions, Adam didn’t question much the offer. He accepted. From Ethiopia to Yemen, Adam traveled with two other teens of the same village. Traveling in small groups, a common strategy used by smugglers and traffickers, aims at reassuring the victims. Upon his arrival in Yemen, Adam and the two other teens were immediately held captive in a secret house. They were forced to call their families and ask for ransom money if they wanted to be spared. “People were tortured and abused in this house,” recalls Adam. He and the two other teens were themselves abused. Eventually, one of the three boys' families collected enough money to secure their release. “If I knew that he was a smuggler, I would not have followed him and reported him immediately,” said Adam about the man who had approached him. “I just want to return home and reunite with my school mates,” adds Adam, saddened and traumatized by his experience. Yet, Adam wants to make sure his friends don’t fall into the same trap. “I want to tell my other friends not to listen to these smugglers. I will tell them about my dreadful experience and hopefully they will not go through what I went through,” says Adam.
Until he is able to return to Ethiopia, Ahmed is staying at IOM’s temporary shelter in Yemen. Although he is now in a safe place, there is little to keep him busy. “I want to play but there are no games available where I am staying. It is even more boring during the power cuts,” says Ahmed. Ahmed was preyed on by smugglers who offered him opportunities abroad. Like many vulnerable youth, Ahmed was promised a better life in Saudi Arabia. He was smuggled out of Ethiopia on a boat with 19 other migrants. Upon his arrival in Yemen – a transit country -, Ahmed was immediately taken to a secret location where he was detained for two months. “There were about 140 other migrants detained at the same location. There were six men who used to beat us,” recalls Ahmed. “I want to go home. What I saw there was awfully scary,” says Ahmed, obviously traumatized by his detention and beating. Ahmed is determined to share his story once he returns. He hopes that it will deter anyone from trusting the false promises of smugglers. “I don’t want much. I want to go back to school and resume my education,” says Ahmed.