IOM Djibouti - Assisting Migrants Evacuated From the Yemen Crisis

IOM/Natalie Oren 2016: Ethiopian migrants who had been evacuated from Hodaidah, Yemen, are received in Djibouti Port by IOM staff.
  Date: Monday, February 6, 2017
By Lalini Veerassamy, IOM Djibouti

On 2 January 2017, the Migration Response Center (MRC) located in Obock, northern Djibouti received four migrants from Yemen, who were seriously injured following an airstrike. The incident happened after the migrants had just arrived in Yemen after crossing Djibouti.

A few days later, two very young Ethiopian migrant children arrived at the centre requesting support to return home as their mother had just passed away in Yemen. They had been assisted by a close relative to flee Yemen and transit through Djibouti.

These are but a few cases out of the thousands of migrants fleeing war-torn Yemen that have been assisted in the MRC over the past year. These vulnerable migrants are in dire need of humanitarian support, which the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is providing at its centre.

IOM set up the MRC in Obock in 2011 to provide humanitarian assistance to vulnerable migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa on their way to Yemen via the Gulf of Aden and those returning from the Gulf. Since the war broke out in Yemen in March 2015, Obock has become a hub both for people moving out of war torn Yemen and those still trying to make it to Yemen.

For years, Djibouti, a small desert nation that shares most of its borders with Ethiopia, has seen an increase in migration flows towards Yemen and beyond. Many migrants have transited through Djibouti in search of better economic opportunities in the Gulf countries, often moving with the help of smuggling networks. Between 2008 and 2016 more than 365,000 migrants and asylum seekers have arrived in Yemen via Obock.

These movements towards Yemen continue even as the conflict rages on in that country. Many of the migrants making this journey are not informed of the ongoing war in Yemen. Others hope the conflict in Yemen will make their trip easier by providing distractions for them to move undetected, but the truth is actually the opposite. Passage is now more dangerous than ever for migrants, as it places them in vulnerable situations and exposes them to even more abuse and violence.

While Ethiopians and other migrants still travel from Obock to Yemen, thousands of Yemeni refugees and other third country nationals are coming the other way. Escaping the conflict in Yemen, many have landed on Djiboutian shores in the last year, on their way home – mostly to Ethiopia and Somalia.

The testimonies of those who have escaped to Djibouti, reveal that they cannot imagine why anyone would willingly go towards the nightmare they just escaped. The fighting in Yemen has been brutal in many parts of the country, thousands have lost their lives, and large parts of cities have been flattened by bombing and rocket attacks.

Since early 2015 more than 30,000 persons have transited through Djibouti to return to their country of origin with the close cooperation of the Government of Djibouti and the support of international organizations such as IOM.

This also changed the work of IOM’s MRC in Obock. In 2016, IOM evacuated over 3,000 Ethiopian migrants by boat from Al Hudaydah, Yemen to Djibouti, and over 500 migrants by air. Many of them were evacuated from detention centres and still many others remain stranded in Yemen for months. IOM is working round the clock to ensure that all migrant evacuations continue safely.

All immediate support to the evacuated migrants is provided at the MRC in Obock and the Loyada Center, 15 km from Djibouti city. Support provided includes boat transportation from Yemen to Djibouti, food and medical as well as psychosocial assistance, the provision of travel documentation from the Ethiopian Embassy, interpretation services and return to Ethiopia with the support of the Government of Ethiopia and IOM mission in Addis Ababa.

Thanks to the positive cooperation between IOM and the Government of Djibouti, IOM has continued to support migrants stranded in Yemen in spite of various government decisions to stop any incoming boats from Yemen due to the cholera outbreak in Yemen. An operating framework has been put in place allowing the smooth facilitation of evacuation operations and granting temporary waivers for foreign nationals to enter and exit Djibouti.

IOM works closely with the police at the borders as well as all concerned government entities including the humanitarian branch of the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Transport and Port authorities.

Partners also include foreign embassies to identify nationals and issue missing documentation needed for the migrants to return to their home countries; private transport ground, sea and air companies to manage the logistical challenge of evacuation operations and international organizations and civil society actors such as the World Food Programme and the Office Nationale pour l’Assistance des Refugies et des Sinistres (ONARS) who provide direct assistance to migrants.

IOM Djibouti’s experience is a testimony to the importance of multi-stakeholder cooperation when it comes to migrant evacuations and the provision of immediate assistance, whereby all actors can play a specific role based on their mandate and expertise. This is in line with the recommendations contained in Guideline 13 of the Migrants In Countries In Crisis (MICIC) Guidelines on relocation and evacuation of migrants experiencing a crisis.


Lalini Veerassamy is the Chief of Mission of IOM Djibouti.