DJIBOUTI: Migrants risk all for "better life"
OBOCK, 16 November 2011 (IRIN) - Thousands of migrants traverse the road
between Djibouti's capital, Djiboutiville, and the coastal town of Obock
carrying little more than a bottle of water and the hope that they are
heading towards a better life. They pass through an arid landscape strewn
with volcanic rock that sustains little life besides the occasional
pastoralist and his goats. Temperatures average around 34 degrees Celsius in
winter and in summer can reach 52 degrees.
It is just one leg of a journey that, for most, started in Ethiopia or
Somalia and for the fortunate ones will end with a well-paid job in Saudi
The migrants, mostly young Ethiopian men aged between 18 and 30, tend to
underestimate the risks of such a journey. In September 2011, the Djibouti
government reported that around 60 corpses of Ethiopian migrants had been
found near Lake Assal, a saline lake about 120km west of Djiboutiville.
Whether they died from drinking contaminated water or thirst and exhaustion
after being abandoned by their smugglers is not known, but Bjorn Curley,
associate protection officer with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Djibouti,
described their fate as "a symptom of the dangers these people face while
making this journey through one of the hottest, most inhospitable areas in
Jamal Yimar, a mason from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, survived an
eight-day trek to Djibouti only to be robbed on the road to Obock of the
10,000 Djiboutian francs (US$57) needed to pay a smuggler for his passage to
"Here it is miserable for everyone," he said, standing outside Obock's main
mosque with about 50 other Ethiopian migrants who sleep there at night. "I
have to beg to eat."
Yimar worked for five months to save the money for this journey but is
optimistic about his chances of replacing the stolen cash, crossing to
Yemen, a country beset by internal
> conflict, and reaching
the Saudi border.
"After some time the problems in Yemen will disappear," he said. "Look at my
hands - I can work hard, and there [in Saudi Arabia] they pay a lot of
Too many to detain
Rather than deterring migration, Curley of UNHCR says the unrest in Yemen
may have made it easier for smugglers to operate. Over 60,000 migrants
arrived there between January and August 2011, double the number that
arrived during the same period in 2010. Obock's relative proximity across
the Gulf of Aden has made it a popular departure point.
In this sleepy port town of about 8,000 inhabitants, groups of migrant men,
and the occasional woman, are easy to spot, resting in the shade of the
mosque, washing their clothes off the pier or walking towards a large patch
of scrubland on the outskirts of town where many of them sleep.
497&name=DLFE-1333.pdf> research by the Danish Refugee Council in January
2011, others are kept out of sight in smugglers' homes or on isolated
stretches of coastline north of town.
Between July and October this year, a Migration Response Centre on the
outskirts of Obock, operated by the International Organization for Migration
(IOM) in conjunction with a local NGO, Association pour la Reinsertion et le
Development d'Obock (ARDO), registered 2,500 migrants. Many more are thought
to have bypassed the Centre, where staff offer water, medical referrals and
assistance to the few wishing to return home, but no food or overnight
Omar Fradda, Obock's prefect (top official) puts the number of migrants
passing through his town every year at 30,000. "Before, we gave them
breakfast, lunch and dinner and paid for boats to take them back to
Djiboutiville [from where they were deported], but now it became too many,"
he told IRIN.
He receives no additional money from the government to cover the costs of
detaining, feeding and transporting the migrants. "How can we arrest them?"
said a local police officer, "There are too many, and more every day."
Migrants like Yimar, who have been robbed by bandits or their own smugglers,
depend on the charity of local people for food and occasional paid work
carrying loads from boats in the harbour, but there are limits to how much
the town's small population can give the constant stream of hungry migrants.
"Before, they gave us something, but now [that] our numbers are increasing
they don't give anymore," said Melese Fantay, from Ethiopia's Amhara region.
He has spent the last 40 days sleeping rough outside the mosque and begging
for food after a smuggler he had paid his last 1,350 Ethiopian birr (US$78)
to take him to Yemen disappeared with the money.
The influx has also strained the resources of Obock's hospital, where head
doctor Helem Arbahim Hassan estimates that 10 out of the 40 out-patients he
sees every day are migrants, mostly suffering from ailments caused by their
difficult journey, such as malnourishment, malaria and foot injuries.
More seriously, since June about 100 migrants have been admitted as
in-patients, mostly suffering from cholera. "They get it from drinking
contaminated water," Hassan said. "Sometimes they collapse on the road and
an ambulance picks them up and brings them here."
Deaths at departure points
Many migrants travel part of the way to Obock by car or truck, but Osman
Keno, 21, an electrical engineering student from Ethiopia's Oromia region,
made the entire journey on foot over three weeks, travelling with a group of
32 others he met on the road.
He said they often went for days without finding water and when they did,
filled as many containers as they could carry. A porridge called "besso",
made from barley flour, water and sugar, was the only food they had.
Keno's parents did not know where he was until he phoned them from
Djiboutiville and asked them to send him some money. He and his fellow
travellers had each paid a smuggler 2,000 birr (US$116) to get them to
Yemen, but had no idea when they would leave.
While they talk to IRIN from the patch of scrubland outside town where they
have been waiting for the past three days, a local man carrying a stick
approaches and the migrants, who include two Somali women, hurry towards
The man arranges them in rows, counts them several times with his stick and
then divides them into two groups. Bags of bread and bottled water are
distributed. It seems departure is imminent and they will soon be
transferred to one of the isolated stretches of coastline north of Obock.
"It is while here that they have no access to food, safe drinking water or
shelter from the sun," said the Danish Refugee Council report. Migrants
often wait between three and five days for favourable sea conditions to
cross to Yemen.
"Several deaths at the departure point have been reported by new arrivals
over the past year. Many new arrivals in Yemen need medical treatment for
severe dehydration and acute diarrhoea, and some arrive very ill from having
drunk sea water," the authors said.
Death at sea, either from boats capsizing in bad weather, suffocation or
from smugglers forcing passengers off overloaded boats, is another
significant risk. Some of the migrants spend their time in Obock learning to
"I'm not afraid," said Keno. "My parents want me to come home but I don't
want to go back there, ever."
------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------
Received on Wed Nov 16 2011 - 16:06:33 EST