Growing Number of Women and Girls Migrating via Perilous Eastern Route Raises Concerns of Exploitation and Trafficking

Growing Number of Women and Girls Migrating via Perilous Eastern Route Raises Concerns of Exploitation and Trafficking

In a smuggler's house in Bosaso, a group of women is preparing for the arduous journey to Yemen. With just one meal a day provided by the smugglers, most women spend their time sleeping, hoping to alleviate the pressures of the wait and hunger.

© IOM/Claudia Rosel

Date: August 28, 2023

In a distressing development, the number of women and girls migrating through the perilous Eastern Route has seen a significant increase, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). This migratory path, which passes through Yemen and leads to the Gulf States, has become a harrowing journey for many, with reports of harassment, abuse, forced marriages, and exploitation along the way.

The situation was brought to light in a recent press release by the IOM, shedding light on the dangers faced by those who embark on the Eastern Route. In the outskirts of Bosaso, a strategic maritime point in northern Somalia, more than 30 young women and girls, along with a dozen men, were found in a precarious settlement. The scorching heat, combined with the lack of proper shelter, made their living conditions unbearable.

While the majority of migrants taking this route are men, the number of women has doubled over the past two years, reaching 106,700 in 2022, up from 53,000 in 2021. These women and girls often fall victim to smugglers and traffickers who exploit them for financial gain and subject them to ongoing cycles of abuse. Forced marriages, human trafficking, and exploitation are unfortunate realities faced by many women seeking job opportunities in the Middle East.

The press release highlighted the story of Yasmine, a 14-year-old Ethiopian girl who left her home in search of a better life. Unfortunately, she fell prey to traffickers who held her captive for months until she fell ill and was eventually released. Yasmine's story is just one among many, with dozens of pregnant women and vulnerable migrants seeking refuge at migrant response centers (MRCs) in Bosaso and Hargeisa.

The IOM, in collaboration with local authorities, operates these MRCs, providing free medical care, water, food, and essential information. They also register migrants interested in returning home and refer vulnerable cases to safe houses where they can receive more specialized care and explore their options. However, the funding necessary to support these migrants and victims is decreasing, exacerbating the risks they face along the Eastern Route.

Franz Celestin, IOM Chief of Mission in Somalia, emphasized the importance of adequate funding to prevent situations like Yasmine's. He stated, "We could have had someone accompany her on the trip back to ensure she had access to the assistance she needed after such a traumatic event." The IOM works tirelessly to strengthen anti-trafficking mechanisms and raise awareness through campaigns, but limited funding remains an ongoing challenge.

Despite the dangers, many migrants manage to make it to Yemen, but their situation remains dire. Approximately 43,000 migrants are currently trapped in Yemen, living in precarious conditions and at risk of becoming caught in the ongoing conflict. To address this issue, the IOM has been providing crucial support for safe and voluntary repatriation, including charter flights and in-land transportation. Additionally, reintegration initiatives help returning migrants restart their lives with dignity by providing skills training, education courses, grants, and medical support.

Since early 2022, the IOM has supported over 5,700 stranded migrants and trafficking victims in safely returning to their home countries from Yemen. Furthermore, approximately 300,000 vulnerable migrants have received humanitarian assistance in Yemen, Somalia, and Djibouti. In 2023 alone, the IOM has already assisted 5,631 migrants, primarily Ethiopians, to return home on Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) flights.

To continue providing vital support in the region, the IOM is appealing for USD 58.5 million through the Migrant Response Plan (MRP). This funding will enable the organization to address the pressing needs of migrants along the Eastern Route, including women and girls who are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.

As the international community grapples with this growing crisis, it is crucial to recognize the importance of providing safer migration alternatives and opportunities for those seeking a better life. By addressing the root causes of irregular migration and ensuring proper funding, the risks faced by migrants can be mitigated, and traffickers' exploitation can be curtailed.

The IOM's efforts, in collaboration with local authorities and communities, aim to create a safer environment for migrants, where they can pursue their aspirations without risking their lives and falling victim to human trafficking.

Note: All testimonies included in this report were collected between August 2022 and June 2023.


IOM - International Organization for Migration