The first 116 Ethiopian migrants to voluntarily return from Sudan since the onset of COVID-19 have arrived their Ethiopian communities after completing the mandatory 14 day quarantine period in Addis Ababa.
The returnees were supported by the government of Ethiopia which paid for the charter flight in July, and the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa.
The flight had 76 women, 41 men and three minors.
Scores of migrants, many of whom risked their lives hoping to get to Europe and the Middle East, have been stranded in the country unable to reach their destinations or to get back to their countries of origin due to COVID-19 movement restrictions.
Prior to the departure of the 116 returnees from Khartoum, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative through IOM Sudan’s Migrant Resource and Response Centre (MRRC) provided them with fitness to travel medical screening, individual counselling, psychosocial support and pre-departure assistance.
This also entailed obtaining exit permits for them, clearing penalties for irregular stay and taking care of all airport procedures and transportation to the airport.
Sana, one of the returnees who is also a mother of two, was prompted by conflict to leave her hometown Hawassa, in southern Ethiopia
She was encouraged by a family member, sold everything she owned, paid a smuggler about 16,000 birrs (around 450 USD) and set off for Beirut.
“I travelled from Hawassa to Addis Ababa, Addis Ababa to Gondar, Gondar to Metema, and from Metema to Khartoum, believing that everything I had was okay, including my visa and that I was making the right decision.”
She added that, "When I arrived in Khartoum, the phone number I was provided with was switched off. I did not know who to talk to and where to go. I had no relatives, friends, or acquaintances. I got out of the car with the seven other women who were with me, and we were asked by a few men if we had passports. Promising to help us, we followed them. After walking a long way, they robbed us of our money.”
A few days later, Sana was contacted by the smuggler who told her that her visa to Beirut was ready and instructed her to head to the Khartoum International Airport. Upon arriving at the airport, she found that the visa was for Iraq and not Lebanon, causing a disagreement at the airport and attracting the attention of the authorities.
“We were arrested at the airport and taken to the police station. After four days in detention, we were helped by the Ethiopian embassy and taken to the Ethiopian Community Safe House in Khartoum,”
Sana said, “I was safe, healthy and had shelter. I was told that I would be able to receive support to return home, but then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and all borders were closed. I was stuck in Sudan all those months, thankfully with the support of the safe house.”
Sana is relieved to be back home with her family. “I am very happy to be back home, i may not have made money, but I am grateful to be able to reunite with my family and be in good health. I made a mistake, and I will never repeat it again.”
Under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative, returnees are provided with individual reintegration counseling to guide their reintegration process.
This may include assistance to establish a micro-business, to enrol in a vocational training programme or to cover education costs for children.