Addis Ababa - Brook Alemu Abera left Hossana City, Hadya Zone, in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations Nationalities and People’s Region, right after sitting for his 10th grade national exam in 2009.


His initial plan was to work hard and then migrate to South Africa. But the journey appears to have started sooner than he had anticipated. It began as Brook flew from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. From there he decided to go to Tanzania through informal channels, travelling on foot and sometimes in overcrowded vehicles facilitated by smugglers.


“It took us two months to reach the border to get to Tanzania. The situations was not favourable there,” says Brook, hinting at having suffered extreme hardship.


From the border the journey continued by car into Zambia. A close shave was when the group was accosted by border patrols on the Tanzanian side. Luckily, their broker – who had now joined the group for the journey – negotiated. This allowed them to cross into Zambia. But their relief was short-lived.


“Before we drove further, the broker ordered us to get out of the pickup car we were in. He said we had to change the car so that we would not be discovered by police,” says Brook.


Then, at gunpoint, the broker forced them to get into a containerized vehicle. Altogether they were 19 people. They soon reached Lusaka. That is where they were captured by the police and taken to prison. They appeared in court several times, and were finally sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.


Brook remembers his time in prison as “the worst” thing that can happen to a human being. He recalls the hard labour, the shortage of food, and the sleeplessness. The group was put in a 20-square-metre room, which they shared with over 100 others.

Brook says they have tried to contact various organizations for support. It was IOM that came to their aid, even though they had not been in touch with the organization. IOM negotiated their release and arranged their return to Ethiopia, after they had served six years of their prison time.


However, for Brook home was not to be what it used to be. Both his parents had died during the time he was in prison. Relatives had sold and divided his parents’ properties. He ended up living on the street. “But, again, IOM came to my aid…they supported me to set up this barber shop,” he says.


Brook says he does not want to see other young people experience what he went through as an irregular migrant. “I am trying to advise the youth not to try and leave their country. If they are planning to go and they already have set their mind, they won’t listen to you. Regardless, I am sharing my experience and I am working closely with the local government, involving my friends as well.”


He believes  there is a need to work hard and change the youths’ views on migration. Brook says returnees have set a good example for others, showing them that it is possible to work hard and improve one’s life without leaving the country, “and we have to support our brothers and sisters to start business and have a career here.”


Brook’s return was made possible by the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the East and Horn of Africa. The initiative facilitates orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration management through the development of rights-based and development-focused procedures and processes on protection and sustainable reintegration. The project, backed by the EU Trust Fund, covers and has been set up in close cooperation with a total of 26 African countries.


Not only does the EU-IOM Joint Initiative assist vulnerable migrants by covering their transport costs home, the project also provides returnees with reintegration assistance, which includes schooling for minors, counselling, psychosocial support as well as business training and an in-kind grant to establish a micro-enterprise for those who qualify.