Twenty-seven Ethiopian migrants stuck in Zimbabwe due to border closures arising from COVID-19 have been assisted to return home.

The presence of 15 of the 27 returning migrants was reported  in March 2020, in the Gwanda District of Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland South province, where they were being kept in a homestead by a people smuggler due to the closure of the Beitbridge border post on account of COVID-19.

“He was meant to assist us cross the border to South Africa, since we did not have the proper documentation”, said one of the migrants. “We travelled on foot from Ethiopia up to Zimbabwe.”

The young Ethiopians had travelled overland on what is known as the Southern Route through Kenya, Nairobi, Tanzania, Zambia and then Zimbabwe.

Their travel back home was facilitated by International Organization for Migration (IOM) through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa, and the IOM Global Humanitarian Assistance to Stranded Migrants (HASM) programmes. It was coordinated with the Embassy of Ethiopia in Harare, Zimbabwe’s Department of Immigration and the country’s Prisons and Correctional Services.

Direct humanitarian assistance to the 27 Ethiopians included transportation, clothing, hygiene items and personal protective equipment. When they arrived in Addis Ababa they were placed in a quarantine centre pending the provision of further assistance by IOM, including support to sustainably reintegrate in their communities. 

There is a strong migration culture in Ethiopia yet many of young Ethiopian migrants remained unaware of the risks. These include the high likelihood of experiencing hunger, dehydration, along with the possibility of being abused and exploited. The likelihood of contracting COVID-19 as well as the ensuring movement restrictions are just the latest risks.

According to Mario Lito Malanca, Chief of Mission at IOM Zimbabwe, “considering the ongoing COVID-19 and its impact on human mobility, assistance to stranded migrants regardless of their status, being smuggled or trafficked, irregular or regular - as long as there is an established humanitarian need and a confirmed desire to move - resources  need to be mobilized to ensure the human dignity and wellbeing of the migrants.”

About the EU-IOM Joint Initiative

Launched in December 2016 with the support of the European Union (EU) Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the programme brings together 26 African countries of the Sahel and Lake Chad region, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa, the EU and IOM around the goal of ensuring migration is safer, more informed and better governed for both migrants and their communities.