Stranded in Yemen but Thinking of the Future: Abdulrahman & Naima’s Stories

Published Date: 
Sunday, July 4, 2021

Ma’rib – This was not Abdulrahman’s first time travelling through Yemen hoping to make it to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). He managed to reach the wealthy Gulf country once before. He lived there for two years until he was found working while undocumented and forcibly returned by the authorities.

But with few employment options at home, he decided to attempt the journey again.

“The situation in Ethiopia is so full of poverty and hardship, which makes me determined to find work and earn enough money in order to change my life,” said 20-year-old Abdulrahman.

Raised by a single mother struggling to provide for her family, he could not complete his schooling as a child, forcing him into a cycle of more-or-less subsistence farming.

Abdulrahman, one of the 5,000 migrants from the Horn of Africa stranded in Ma'rib governorate and living in dire conditions. Photo: IOM 2021/Elham Oqabi

“I have three brothers and one sister back in Ethiopia. My mother and father are separated. We have a small farm from which we don’t make that much of an income. I only studied until 4th class because my mother had no money or ability to help me to continue my studies,” he added.

Apart from his family, one shining light for Abdulrahman in Ethiopia was the woman with whom he fell in love. Although he did not want to leave her behind, she remains at the back of his mind while he migrates. His ambition to one day become her husband is what keeps him going on this treacherous journey.

“I proposed to marry her, but her father refused, saying that he will not let his daughter marry a poor man like me. That made me sad but it’s also what made me decide to leave the country, search for work and earn money to be able to get married,” he said.

Yemen is a major transit point on the route between the Horn of Africa and KSA, with the majority of migrants originating from Ethiopia. Around 138,000 migrants made the journey to Yemen in 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic led to a drastic reduction last year, with only around 37,500 arrivals.

This year, the numbers travelling are still low but an estimated 32,000 migrants are stranded throughout Yemen.

Abdulrahman is one of the 5,000 people stranded in Ma’rib, near an active frontline. Despite trying three times, he could not make it across into KSA due to enhanced border controls. Now, like his fellow stranded migrants, he is living in a makeshift shelter and struggles to find enough food and water to survive. The threat of COVID-19 is also always looming given the unsanitary, crowded living conditions, and is of particular concern for a population group without formal access to health care.  

“After leaving the country [Ethiopia], we were starved on the journey and we were exposed to a lot of risks on the road. We had to keep asking people for food along the way and sometimes they would give it to us but other times, we had nothing to eat. And now life here in this settlement [in Ma’rib] is just as hard,” Abdulrahman said.  

Through support from the European Union’s (EU) humanitarian aid body, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) responds to the emergency needs of migrants in Yemen. In Ma’rib, along with other assistance, IOM provided migrants with over 7,000 food baskets in the first quarter of 2021.

“This help is very important to us and is what keeps us alive,” explained Abdulrahman after receiving a food basket.

Naima is also 20 years old and living in the same migrant settlement as Abdulrahman. Heavily pregnant when she left Ethiopia, she gave birth to a girl on her first day in Yemen after two days of travelling. She named her first daughter Sina, which means treasure.  

“I have a baby so it is very difficult for me to stay in a tent with other people,” she explained.

“We need our own shelter, we need clothes and other help. It is also difficult for me to work in the homes of the local community, as I have a baby, and no one will accept me,” added Naima, describing her need for support and struggle to find work as a domestic labourer, a common job for women in the migrant community in Yemen.

In addition to the regular distribution of food baskets and hygiene kits, IOM provided new mothers like Naima with kits to support their early childcare needs and cash assistance.

Naima, a stranded migrant in Ma’rib is striving to crave out the best future for her young child. Photo: IOM 2021/Elham Oqabi

“We lived off that assistance for the past two months,” she said, explaining the value of such support to her and her baby’s life.  

“Small things can make a huge difference and ease hardship and difficulties for people who have very little,” Iman Qaid from the IOM protection team in Ma’rib, which works with other IOM teams like health to support stranded and newly arrived migrants.

“I want to be able to send my daughter Sina back to my family in Ethiopia so that I will be able to go and work in Saudi. I will miss her and long to have her by my side, but all of this is to ensure that she has a safer future,” Naima said, when asked if she still planned to continue onto KSA. 

Also hoping to make it to KSA, Abdulrahman is thinking of his children too, even though they are still a future goal of his.

“If I am able to work in Saudi Arabia and improve my situation, I want to return to my country, gather my family together, get married and have children. I want to catch up with my friends who are already living their lives,” he added.

This story was written by Elham Al Oqabi and edited by Olivia Headon from the IOM Yemen communications tea