Yemen: Ethiopian exodus [Archives:2006/958/Reportage]

June 26 2006

An increasing number of migrants arriving in Yemen are Ethiopians. By April 2006, the number of Ethiopians registering as refugees began to overtake the number of Somalis. The Ethiopian government said most are economic migrants seeking jobs in rich nations on the Arabian peninsula, which act as “magnets for people from neighbouring countries.”

“Legally,” said Bereket Simon, advisor to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, “they can travel on their own to Yemen, Somalia, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia and anywhere, and we would have no interest in controlling that. The illegal movement may also have to do with the pastoralist culture, which makes people move in search of livelihoods.”

Bereket dismissed allegations that people were leaving Ethiopia for political reasons. “Those claiming that they are fleeing political persecution are wrong,” he said. “Ethiopia has a constitution that guarantees freedom of speech and movement. Nobody is being persecuted for having different political views. But we have a legitimate right to defend ourselves against terrorist groups like the ONLF [Ogaden National Liberation Front rebel movement], which has declared war on the state.”

Testimonies from Ethiopians

Mohamed, 27, former soldier, from Ethiopia

I joined the military when I was 20 and was immediately posted north, first to Humera on the Sudan border. I stayed in the military for seven years, and I was injured in the Ethiopia-Eritrea war, in Badme

Fatuma, 21, unemployed, from Ethiopia

I left Dessie [central Ethiopia] to find work. It was a very tough life there. I went from Dessie to Addis Ababa, where I have friends. In Addis, I used to meet up with my friends and we would plan what to do.

Hussein, 32, merchant, from Ethiopia

I have been in Bosasso for two months. I am Oromo, a merchant. I left my wife and son in my home area, but my place of work was Addis Ababa. I used to be prominent in the union.

Ali, 27, student, Addis Ababa

I came to Bosasso in November 2005. I was in my third year at university, but education was badly affected in Ethiopia from September 2005.