Kasahun Worku with child migrant returnees in Oromia, Ethiopia

Kasahun Worku with child migrant returnees in Oromia, Ethiopia

The dangers of irregular migration are well known – they include the risk of being trafficked to spending long periods of time in detention in another country, far away from family and friends. Yet many continue to take their chances.

Aside from push factors such as drought and the lack of employment opportunities, the biggest pull factor for migrants is someone in their neighbourhood who has made it, says social worker Kasahun Worku.

For four years, Kasahun has being involved in a collaborative project between the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Bureau of Addis Ababa Women, Children and Youth Affairs, and Unicef.

He works at the IOM-run migrants’ transit centre situated near Bole International Airport and is part of a team of four social workers who provide family tracing and reunification support for unaccompanied minor children who have voluntarily returned to Ethiopia.

“It’s not easy,” says Kasahun referring to tracing the families of returnees. “Sometimes the phone (belonging to a returnee’s family member) is not working.”

However, the breakthrough can usually be ascribed to IOM’s partnership with representatives of the local Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs at Zone (local) and Kebele (district) level. It is these officers who in most instances can locate a migrant’s family members and also connect them to the returnee.

Kasahun says as long as returnees have economic problems, emigration remains a necessity. “The main reason for migration in Ethiopia is the lack of or limited socio-economic opportunities. If these can’t be solved, they (returnees) will re-emigrate (embark on the journey yet again),” he says.

However, some of Kasahun’s most satisfying moments are when he witnesses tears of joy when families re-unite.

Many of those at the transit centre are voluntary returnees from Djibouti, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. But returnees from Saudi Arabia usually have little choice as most are held in detention until they leave the country. 

Migrants on the Southern Route – which takes them through Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe en route to South Africa – very often suffer the same fate.  Many are arrested and jailed in any of the transit countries. 

Kasahun says most unaccompanied minor migrants leave with the consent of their families. The choice of route depends on their village of origin. For example, migrants from the southern parts of Ethiopia, especially Hadiya and Kembeta, choose the Southern Route as they already have established ties with fellow countrymen who emigrated before them.

The most popular route for Ethiopians is the Eastern Route through Djibouti to Yemen or through Bosaso, Somaliland, to Yemen. When they reach Yemen they make their way to Saudi Arabia, their intended destination. However, some take the Northern Route through Sudan, Libya hoping to reach the southern shores of Europe.

 Assistance to migrants in difficulties and opt to return to their communities of origin is provided by the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa.

Sara Basha, the coordinator of programme in Ethiopia, says: “The support provided to unaccompanied migrant children is not limited to family reunification. It extends to providing social, psychosocial and economic support to the children and their family. Since 2017, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative has been providing needs-based assistance to more than 1200 children”.

IOM is currently in a partnership with three local organisations to address the reintegration needs of minors under the programme and other vulnerable children in Amhara, Oromia and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Regional States. Close to 1100 vulnerable children will receive assistance under this partnership.

The EU-IOM Joint 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. It is funded under the European Union Trust Fund for Africa, covers and has been set up in close cooperation with a total of 26 African countries.