Caught in Conflict without Travel Documents. Migrants in Yemen Cross into Saudi Arabia, Hoping to be Deported

  Date Published: 10/19/2017

In early October, three Ethiopian boys in Yemen told IOM, the UN Migration Agency, “we miss our family and can no longer stay here.”


They had spent seven long months at IOM’s migrant shelter in Aden waiting for a legal way of returning home to Ethiopia. After they spoke these words, the boys left the shelter to attempt the dangerous journey to Saudi Arabia, crossing a country embroiled in armed conflict. Their thinking — deportation will be easier.

Obtaining valid travel documents for irregular migrants in Yemen is an extremely difficult challenge for IOM and is blocking vital humanitarian assistance the migrants desperately need. Hundreds of Ethiopians have asked IOM for help to get home and whether they will get there is unclear.

A few thousand migrants cross into Yemen every month — the majority start their journey in the Horn of Africa and hope to reach the Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. They soon become stranded in Yemen, often pinned in by conflict zones. They also find themselves at risk of being abducted by smugglers and criminal networks that use extreme violence to extort money from their families.

Having experienced abuse from smugglers or the consequences of war, migrants come to IOM for help to get home. Most of them lack valid travel documents and embassies have suspended consular services since the early days of Yemen’s two-year conflict. This has made it extremely difficult for IOM to assist many of the migrants turning to the Organization, simply wanting to go home and see their families again.

Unaccompanied migrant children, who comprise almost 25 per cent of the migrants assisted by IOM in Yemen, are particularly vulnerable and in need of protection services. While at the shelter, the migrants receive humanitarian assistance and information about personal safety in Yemen. The migrant children often tell IOM about their frustration in being unable to return home quickly. The long wait and seemingly perpetual limbo escalates their disappointment. Irritated and tired of waiting, some decide to take the risk of setting out on their own again, despite the danger and threats to their lives when traveling through Yemen. They leave in the hope that they will be able to cross the Yemeni borders with the Gulf countries, which are highly monitored and controlled.

A young migrant boy on a beach in Djibouti as he waits to cross into Yemen. Photo: Muse Mohammed/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017


Coordination with the authorities in Yemen, the country of origin and IOM is continuous but the process has been slow due to the conflict.


Ultimately, migrants like the three Ethiopian boys resort to dangerous options, such as trying to Saudi Arabia to be caught and deported, which is, in their point of view, a “faster way” to return home.


The US Department of State and the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs fund IOM’s 2017 migrant voluntary humanitarian return efforts from Yemen.


This story was posted on Medium by the UN Migration Agency’s office in Yemen. You can get in touch with them by emailing: