Photos: Ethiopians walk through a war zone to Saudi for better prospects

The flow of migrants taking an epic journey of hundreds of miles, from villages and towns in Ethiopia through the Horn of Africa countries Djibouti or Somalia, then across the sea and through the war-torn country of Yemen just to land in Saudi Arabia for better livelihoods has grown. According to the UN’s International Organization for Migration, 150,000 arrived in Yemen from the Horn of Africa in 2018, a 50% jump from the year before. The number in 2019 was similar. Associated Press reporters travelled along part of the migrants’ trail through Djibouti and Yemen in July and August.

UPDATED ON FEB 18, 2020 01:48 PM IST 20 Photos
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Mohammed Eissa, an Ethiopian farmer and migrants he met along the way, shelter inside a damaged shipping container on the side of a highway, near Lac Assal, Djibouti. “Patience,” Eissa told himself. He whispered it every time he felt like giving up. The sun was brutal, reflecting off the thick layer of salt encrusting the barren earth around Lac Assal, a lake 10 times saltier than the ocean. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

Mohammed Eissa, an Ethiopian farmer and migrants he met along the way, shelter inside a damaged shipping container on the side of a highway, near Lac Assal, Djibouti. “Patience,” Eissa told himself. He whispered it every time he felt like giving up. The sun was brutal, reflecting off the thick layer of salt encrusting the barren earth around Lac Assal, a lake 10 times saltier than the ocean. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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A dead bird on the shore of Lac Assal, which African migrants cross to continue their journey on foot, in Djibouti. Nothing grows here. Birds are said to fall dead out of the sky from the searing heat. And yet 35-year-old Eissa walked on, as he had for three days, since he left his homeland for Saudi Arabia. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

A dead bird on the shore of Lac Assal, which African migrants cross to continue their journey on foot, in Djibouti. Nothing grows here. Birds are said to fall dead out of the sky from the searing heat. And yet 35-year-old Eissa walked on, as he had for three days, since he left his homeland for Saudi Arabia. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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Mohammed Eissa on the side of a highway, near Lac Assal. Nearby were two dozen graves, piles of rocks, with no headstones. People said they belong to migrants who like Eissa embarked on an epic journey from Ethiopia through the Horn of Africa countries Djibouti or Somalia, then across the sea and through the war-torn country of Yemen. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

Mohammed Eissa on the side of a highway, near Lac Assal. Nearby were two dozen graves, piles of rocks, with no headstones. People said they belong to migrants who like Eissa embarked on an epic journey from Ethiopia through the Horn of Africa countries Djibouti or Somalia, then across the sea and through the war-torn country of Yemen. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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They all dreamt of reaching Saudi Arabia, and earning enough to escape poverty. But even if they reach their destination, there is no guarantee they can stay; the kingdom often expels them. Over the past three years, the UN’s International Organization for Migration reported 9,000 Ethiopians were deported each month. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

They all dreamt of reaching Saudi Arabia, and earning enough to escape poverty. But even if they reach their destination, there is no guarantee they can stay; the kingdom often expels them. Over the past three years, the UN’s International Organization for Migration reported 9,000 Ethiopians were deported each month. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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Many have made the journey multiple times in what has become an unending loop of arrival and deportation. Eissa (2nd L)was among them, on his third trip to Saudi Arabia. In his pockets, he carried a text neatly handwritten in Oromo, his native language, of stories of the Prophet Muhammad, who fled his home in Mecca to Medina to seek refuge from his enemies. “I depend on God,” Eissa said. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

Many have made the journey multiple times in what has become an unending loop of arrival and deportation. Eissa (2nd L)was among them, on his third trip to Saudi Arabia. In his pockets, he carried a text neatly handwritten in Oromo, his native language, of stories of the Prophet Muhammad, who fled his home in Mecca to Medina to seek refuge from his enemies. “I depend on God,” Eissa said. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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AP reporters travelled along part of the migrants’ trail through Djibouti and Yemen in July and August. Eissa was among those they met; another was Mohammad Ibrahim, from Arsi, the same region as Eissa. Perched in the country’s central highlands, it’s an area where subsistence farmers live off small plots of land. When the rains come, families can eat. In the dry summer months food dwindles and hunger follows. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

AP reporters travelled along part of the migrants’ trail through Djibouti and Yemen in July and August. Eissa was among those they met; another was Mohammad Ibrahim, from Arsi, the same region as Eissa. Perched in the country’s central highlands, it’s an area where subsistence farmers live off small plots of land. When the rains come, families can eat. In the dry summer months food dwindles and hunger follows. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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Smugglers lead Ethiopian migrants. Ibrahim, 22, had never been able to find a job and eventually thought of going to Saudi Arabia. He reached out to the local “door opener”—a broker who would link him to smugglers along the way. Often migrants are told they can pay when they reach. Those who spoke to the AP said they were initially quoted prices ranging from $300 to $800 for the journey. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

Smugglers lead Ethiopian migrants. Ibrahim, 22, had never been able to find a job and eventually thought of going to Saudi Arabia. He reached out to the local “door opener”—a broker who would link him to smugglers along the way. Often migrants are told they can pay when they reach. Those who spoke to the AP said they were initially quoted prices ranging from $300 to $800 for the journey. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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In the best-case scenario, the smuggler is a sort of tour organizer. They arrange transport, run safe houses and boats for the sea crossing. Once in Saudi Arabia, the migrants call home to have payment wired to smugglers. In the worst case, the smuggler is an exploiter, imprisoning and torturing migrants for money, dumping them en route or selling them into virtual slave labour on farms. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

In the best-case scenario, the smuggler is a sort of tour organizer. They arrange transport, run safe houses and boats for the sea crossing. Once in Saudi Arabia, the migrants call home to have payment wired to smugglers. In the worst case, the smuggler is an exploiter, imprisoning and torturing migrants for money, dumping them en route or selling them into virtual slave labour on farms. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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Mohammed Eissa, at the front of the group, around 50km from Djibouti. Eissa decided he would not use smugglers for this journey. The first time, in 2011, he worked as a steel worker in the kingdom, making $25 a day and earning enough to buy a plot of land in the Arsi region’s main town, Asella. He made the trip again two years later but was arrested and deported. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

Mohammed Eissa, at the front of the group, around 50km from Djibouti. Eissa decided he would not use smugglers for this journey. The first time, in 2011, he worked as a steel worker in the kingdom, making $25 a day and earning enough to buy a plot of land in the Arsi region’s main town, Asella. He made the trip again two years later but was arrested and deported. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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Eissa hitched from his home to the border with Djibouti, then walked. His second day there, he was robbed at knifepoint. The next day, he walked six hours in the wrong direction before he found the right path. When the AP met him, Eissa said he had been living off bread and water for days. He had a small bottle filled with water from a well, covered with fabric to keep out dust. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

Eissa hitched from his home to the border with Djibouti, then walked. His second day there, he was robbed at knifepoint. The next day, he walked six hours in the wrong direction before he found the right path. When the AP met him, Eissa said he had been living off bread and water for days. He had a small bottle filled with water from a well, covered with fabric to keep out dust. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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Fatma (R) takes shelter with a friend before leaving by boat to Yemen in Obock. The 120km trip across Djibouti can take days. Many end up in the country’s capital living in slums and working to earn money for the crossing. Young women are often trapped in prostitution or enslaved as servants. The track through Djibouti ends on a long, virtually uninhabited coast outside Obock. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

Fatma (R) takes shelter with a friend before leaving by boat to Yemen in Obock. The 120km trip across Djibouti can take days. Many end up in the country’s capital living in slums and working to earn money for the crossing. Young women are often trapped in prostitution or enslaved as servants. The track through Djibouti ends on a long, virtually uninhabited coast outside Obock. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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During the wait to cross, smugglers brought out large pots of spaghetti and barrels of water. Young men and women washed themselves in nearby wells. Others sat in the shade of the scrawny, twisted acacia trees. At night, AP witnessed a daily smuggling routine: small lights flashing in the darkness. More than 100 men and women, boys and girls ordered to sit in silence on the beach. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

During the wait to cross, smugglers brought out large pots of spaghetti and barrels of water. Young men and women washed themselves in nearby wells. Others sat in the shade of the scrawny, twisted acacia trees. At night, AP witnessed a daily smuggling routine: small lights flashing in the darkness. More than 100 men and women, boys and girls ordered to sit in silence on the beach. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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The smugglers had hushed conversations on satellite phones with their counterparts in Yemen. There was a moment of worry when a black dinghy appeared–a patrol of Djibouti’s marines. After half an hour it motored away. The marines had received their daily bribe of around $100 dollars. The migrants were warned not to move or talk during the crossing. Most had never seen the sea before. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

The smugglers had hushed conversations on satellite phones with their counterparts in Yemen. There was a moment of worry when a black dinghy appeared–a patrol of Djibouti’s marines. After half an hour it motored away. The marines had received their daily bribe of around $100 dollars. The migrants were warned not to move or talk during the crossing. Most had never seen the sea before. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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Migrants disembark on the shores of Ras al-Ara, Yemen. Eissa made the crossing another day, paying about $65 to a boat captain. Ibrahim took an alternative route, through Somalia to reach the town of Las Anoud. For 12 days, he was imprisoned, tortured and extorted. They transported him through the port of Bosaso on a wooden boat with some 300 other men and women, “like canned sardines,” he said. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

Migrants disembark on the shores of Ras al-Ara, Yemen. Eissa made the crossing another day, paying about $65 to a boat captain. Ibrahim took an alternative route, through Somalia to reach the town of Las Anoud. For 12 days, he was imprisoned, tortured and extorted. They transported him through the port of Bosaso on a wooden boat with some 300 other men and women, “like canned sardines,” he said. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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Flailing in the water, they formed human chains to help the women and children onto shore. Ibrahim collapsed on the sand and passed out. A security official in Lahj province said bodies of dead migrants or groups in hiding are often found. “Where would we take them and what would we do with them?” he asked, speaking on condition of anonymity. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

Flailing in the water, they formed human chains to help the women and children onto shore. Ibrahim collapsed on the sand and passed out. A security official in Lahj province said bodies of dead migrants or groups in hiding are often found. “Where would we take them and what would we do with them?” he asked, speaking on condition of anonymity. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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Over the summer, an Aden soccer stadium became a temporary refuge for thousands. At first, security forces used it to house captured migrants. Others soon showed up voluntarily. The IOM distributed food and arranged voluntary repatriation for some. The soccer pitch and stands, destroyed from the war, became a field of tents. After a few weeks, Yemeni forces cleared out the stadium. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

Over the summer, an Aden soccer stadium became a temporary refuge for thousands. At first, security forces used it to house captured migrants. Others soon showed up voluntarily. The IOM distributed food and arranged voluntary repatriation for some. The soccer pitch and stands, destroyed from the war, became a field of tents. After a few weeks, Yemeni forces cleared out the stadium. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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In the evenings, thousands of migrants mill around the streets of Marib, one of the main city stopovers on the migrants’ route through Yemen. In the mornings, they search for day jobs. They could earn about a dollar a day working on nearby farms. A more prized job is with the city garbage collectors, paying $4 a day. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

In the evenings, thousands of migrants mill around the streets of Marib, one of the main city stopovers on the migrants’ route through Yemen. In the mornings, they search for day jobs. They could earn about a dollar a day working on nearby farms. A more prized job is with the city garbage collectors, paying $4 a day. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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A road in Dhale province, an active frontline where African migrants cross. North of Marib, migrants cross into Houthi territory at Hazm, a run-down town divided down the middle between the rebels and anti-Houthi fighters. It’s a 5km no-man’s land where sniper fire and shelling are rampant. Once across, it is another 200km north to the Saudi border. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

A road in Dhale province, an active frontline where African migrants cross. North of Marib, migrants cross into Houthi territory at Hazm, a run-down town divided down the middle between the rebels and anti-Houthi fighters. It’s a 5km no-man’s land where sniper fire and shelling are rampant. Once across, it is another 200km north to the Saudi border. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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Eissa walked that final stretch, a risk because the militiamen have a deal with smugglers: Those who go by car are allowed through; those on foot arrested. He traversed tiny valleys winding through mountains to the crossing points of Al Thabit or Souq al-Raqo, a lawless centre for drug and weapons trafficking run by Ethiopian smugglers. Even local security forces are afraid to go there. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

Eissa walked that final stretch, a risk because the militiamen have a deal with smugglers: Those who go by car are allowed through; those on foot arrested. He traversed tiny valleys winding through mountains to the crossing points of Al Thabit or Souq al-Raqo, a lawless centre for drug and weapons trafficking run by Ethiopian smugglers. Even local security forces are afraid to go there. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

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Eissa slipped across the Saudi border on August 10, 39 days after leaving home. After reaching the town of Khamis Mushayit he prayed at a mosque. Some Saudis there asked if he wanted work and got him a job watering trees on a farm. “Peace, mercy, and blessings of God,” he said in one of his last audio messages to the AP. “I am fine, thank God. I am in Saudi.” (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

Eissa slipped across the Saudi border on August 10, 39 days after leaving home. After reaching the town of Khamis Mushayit he prayed at a mosque. Some Saudis there asked if he wanted work and got him a job watering trees on a farm. “Peace, mercy, and blessings of God,” he said in one of his last audio messages to the AP. “I am fine, thank God. I am in Saudi.” (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

UPDATED ON FEB 18, 2020 01:48 PM IST
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