- A growing number of Ethiopians seeking greener pastures in the Arabian Peninsula or Europe fall victim to human traffickers, exploiting their desire to emigrate. Many die on the road. Community dialogue is now to help sensitise potential migrants.
With 1,400 irregular migrants, mainly Ethiopians and Somalis, having perished in 2007 alone in the attempt to cross the Gulf of Aden using human smugglers, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says it is stepping up efforts to sensitise rural and urban communities in Ethiopia on the risks and dangers of irregular migration.
A dialogue is being held today in the capital, Addis Ababa with community-based institutions including the Ethiopian IDIR Association, a self-help group which helps members and families with financial and social help in the event of death, as well as religious leaders in a bid to reach out to a greater number of potential migrants.
Although the majority of Ethiopians using smugglers to get them to the Middle East and beyond via Somalia, the Gulf of Aden and Yemen, are from rural areas, IOM says "there is little awareness of the perils and misery of the journey to Bossasso in Somalia's Puntland, the main departure point, and beyond."
IOM says it has documented that "migrants are often abused physically and verbally, robbed and at times abandoned in the Somali deserts with no money, papers, food or water. Women and girls can often have the added ordeal of rape."
"Those who reach Bossasso live in squalid conditions until they manage to find the means to make the crossing to Yemen in the smugglers' usually unseaworthy boats. Many thousands of Ethiopians and Somalis have drowned over the years while trying to make the crossing, not least because they've been thrown overboard by the smugglers," the organisation warned potential migrants.
IOM holds there is also little awareness too of the dangers of human trafficking among Ethiopians. Only last week, IOM together with the Ethiopian and Tanzanian governments, had returned a group of victims of trafficking from Dar-Es-Salaam to their homes in Ethiopia. More than 1,000 Ethiopians are believed to be languishing in prisons in the east African country, most of whom had been either smuggled or trafficked into Tanzania via Kenya en route to South Africa and Europe.
According to IOM, the dialogue is intended to stir debate amongst community members so that local solutions are found to address the problem of irregular migration in addition to raising awareness of its dangers.
"Involving religious leaders and traditional institutions have been very effective and useful in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The same can be applied in fighting irregular migration in the country," says Charles Kwenin, IOM's chief of mission in Addis Ababa.
The dialogue is part of a bigger information campaign funded by the Dutch government which will include radio shows in four languages and is intended to scale-up outreach efforts particularly among rural communities. IOM also hopes to help establish informal and formal networks, sensitization through existing traditional institutions, and the setting up regular dialogue forums for a coordinated action, according to Mr Kwenin.
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