Ethiopian returnee recounts dangers of migrating irregularly

Biruk, an Ethiopian returnee, recently shared his story on the dangers of migrating irregularly.

Speaking with delegates at the third ‘Migration Conversation’, a platform jointly organised by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and a private Kenyan university, Biruk spoke about the dangers of attempting irregular migration along the ‘Southern Route’  – used by migrants journeying southward to reach South Africa.

Biruk recounted how he left his home in Ethiopia in the hope of starting a new life in South Africa but was arrested and imprisoned in Zambia for six years.

Biruk’s parents borrowed about USD 3,000 from relatives to finance their son, who had just completed third grade, to travel to South Africa irregularly. Biruk explained how he was deceived by smugglers who spread false information about the journey to South Africa, promising him that the journey would be safe and legal.

“He said he’d process the visa and take me to South Africa,” Biruk recalled about the smugglers.

Biruk was flown to Nairobi and then travelled through Tanzania and Zambia in an attempt to reach South Africa. Biruk said the journey was very difficult as the majority of the crossings took place at night either on foot or packed into unsafe and crowded trucks with little food and water.

Biruk was among several other Ethiopian and Asian nationals who were later arrested entering Zambia from Tanzania. The Zambian court sentenced him to 15 years in prison but thanks to IOM, Biruk was released after six years and returned home. 

In order to reach South Africa irregularly, many migrants from Ethiopia and Eritrea travel through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe without a valid visa. As a result, they often end up in prison in transit countries.

Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania which lie along the ‘Southern Route’ have been working to reduce the southward flow of irregular migrants from the Horn of Africa, with support from IOM.  The agreement focuses on alternatives to migrant detention, prevention of unsafe migration, and the best practices for return and reintegration.

Sadly when Biruk returned home, he found out that his parents had died and his siblings had sold or divided their properties leaving him destitute.

However, soon after returning home Biruk was given the chance to enroll in the EU-IOM Joint Initiative which aims to ease the reintegration of returnees and improve their livelihoods. The initiative enabled Biruk to open two barbershops in Ethiopia, and employ four people.

TMP – 28/05/2019

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Photo caption: Many migrants risk their lives to migrate irregularly