A Rare Kind of Family Pressure Prompted Halima To Migrate
Migration is personal. There are often many reasons why a person decides to leave everything that is comforting and familiar to venture into the unknown. Some are looking for better employment and educational opportunities, while others are fleeing natural disasters or conflict. One thing is certain; everyone that has ever made that decision was searching for a better, safer life.
Halima was 20-years-old when she gathered her few belongings and embarked on a journey from Ethiopia, through one of the most dangerous migration routes on earth. Commonly known as the Eastern Route, it is among the historical corridors that migrants have taken to leave countries in the East and Horn of Africa to reach Yemen before travelling onwards to more prosperous countries in the Middle East.
Halima’s motive to flee her home and family in the Harari region of Ethiopia is rarely found in migration statistics: she was pregnant.
Instead of preparing for this exciting and joyful time in a woman’s life, she was living a nightmare. Having a child out of wedlock is totally unacceptable for a traditional rural family like hers from the Oromo ethnic group.
“I started to receive a lot of pressure from family members and the community,” she recalls. “They were upset and shocked. The environment I was living in became unbearable.”
In Harari, like most Ethiopian regions, women are expected to give birth and raise their children within a matrimonial bond. The Oromo in Harari preserve these values to this day. It is a taboo for a woman to have a child without being married. The community calls her ‘Gursuma’, which negatively signifies the context. She carries the title for the rest of her life. No parent in Harari wants to have a Gursuma in the family. Fearful of this stigma, they often arrange marriages for their daughters at a very young age.
As Halima’s pregnancy approached its ninth month, she learned that a group of women she knew were about to leave Ethiopia for Puntland to try their luck crossing the Gulf of Aden. She did not think twice, joining them to protect the life of her unborn child. Leaving everyone and everything she knew at a time when most expectant mothers would be preparing for their baby demonstrates the raw fear that Halima had and her desperation to find a safe haven.
“As soon as we got to Puntland in the first week of March, I went to find a distant relative that I knew was living in Bosasso and stayed with them,” she says.
Many of the migrants arriving at the port city of Bosasso from Ethiopia are hosted by Ethiopian community members in informal settlements found around the city.
“Migrants often travel with nothing but the clothes on their back,” said Wria Rashid, the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Head of Office in Bosasso “When they arrive they normally stay with the Ethiopian community or in places managed by agents that facilitated their travel.”
Just a few short weeks after Halima arrived, she was admitted to Bosasso General Hospital and gave birth to a healthy baby girl.
“I was very scared, especially because I was alone and very far from home. But thankfully I gave birth without complications and my baby is in good health,” she says.
IOM assists migrants like Halima through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa (the EU-IOM Joint Initiative). The organization operates a Migration Response Centre (MRC) in cooperation with the Government of the Bari region of Puntland, where stranded migrants can find information and receive direct assistance, including information, psychological support and basic health services.
Halima and her new-born have received constant support and regular visits from the MRC staff since she left the hospital.
“I received things for my baby and myself, like milk, soap and clothes. I also received health assistance, food and shelter since I left the hospital,” she says.
According to Rashid: “We are committed to ensuring that Halima and her baby have access to anything they need to help them during this difficult situation.”
The young mother’s future plans are still uncertain. She acknowledges that returning to Ethiopia could be risky as her community won’t accept her, while crossing the Gulf of Aden with a new born is a dangerous alternative.
“I am thinking of staying in Bosasso until I am fully recovered, and I will try to find a job to support my daughter and myself,” she says.
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.