"The price is mighty, the risk too much”
"I feel like I mortgaged my parents' life for a chance, like a lottery”
Situated in the baking heat of Samara, Afar, is a refugee camp that has welcomed thousands of former Ethiopian refugees from abroad. Ethiopia, beyond its troubling narrative of the displacment of its own populations in the millions, remains home to more than one million refugees from neighboring nations such as, South Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and now Yemen and Syria.
Standing in a corner, in what is a refugee camp of destitute Ethiopian refugees managed by the IOM (International Migration of Organization), is Helen (who refused to give her last name) but is hopeful about what the future holds for her.
Despite having ventured outside of her community looking for opportunities found little within Ethiopia, what she saw abroad in Djibouti shattered her dreams of looking outside of Ethiopia, to earn easy money that has become elusive for many Ethiopians. Mostly from rural parts, these people leave their communities in search of a better economic opportunity.
“The first day I arrived in Djibouti, I expected to start work immediately and repay back the money I owned family members to come to this city. My father borrowed, pawned his own livestock worth 100,000 Birr for me to be smuggled out of Ethiopia, to Djibouti. But the first day, I was expected to perform sexual favors”, she said.
“I cried myself to sleep every night and realized I had my youth and home to go back to and walked to the border realizing I did not need to sell myself in exchange for financial favors,” she added.
In debt, Helen is heading to Adama. "I feel like I mortgaged my parents' life for a chance, like a lottery. I wonder if they will accept me with nothing but my life. I wonder if my life is worth talking back", she said.
While Ethiopia has welcomed refugees from other nations, the nation has also been noted for having one of the largest destitute populations to head to other nations, including to Europe.
Mohamud Ahmed was one of many who headed from Alitena, Tigray to Yemen. His plan was to quickly head to Europe and escape the misery of a war torn nation that is in the midst of war and now famine. In Sana'a, he operated a store that earned him enough money to support a family of five.
But war got in the way and now he is back in Ethiopia, looking for the safety that was no longer his reality in Yemen, dependent on the support of IOM and support from aid agencies. As the head of the family, he finds a bit too much as he would have preferred to be self-sufficient, he said.
“Yemen, for the longest time, became home. I liked living there; earning the resources I needed, to give my wife and children a home. I neglected my ambition to travel to Europe. I was happy, content with my life there, but in a blink of an eye, the conflict became my reality. I was suddenly forced to move back to Ethiopia with nothing on my back, but my reality. A destitute man, who provided his family with plenty, but now unable to do that,” Mohamud said.
Back in Afar
It is windy and the dust is overwhelming. A 23-year-old is serving the local delicacy, roasted goat and chilled beer to withstand the heat. She is determined to be successful and seems ambitious as continued to serve her customers, while her brother, overwhelmed with the heat, sleeps openly nearby.
“I have long wanted to move to another nation looking for opportunities. I have seen some come back with little and few with little resources. But I have now realized, the danger, the vulnerabilities of the voyage and above all else, the realization I can be successful at home, not elsewhere,” she said.
“The price is mighty, the risk too much and I wonder how much personal sacrifice would ever compensate for my own life, dignity,” she wondered.
Not far, inside the temporary home of refugees, in a gigantic room are others, who seem defeated yet hopeful about their future.
"I have yet to communicate with my family in Zeway. But I am glad I have my life back and I am given a second chance to revisit my home and sleep on my own bed and kiss my mother and tell her I love her. Those are the words I want to utter - my only dream - and the only dream I have now. The financial aspect comes after that," he said as he wiped his tears and his words translated from Oromifa to Amaregna for others to understand, and echo his emotions and as others agreed with a nod.