Vocational skills training gives young migrant an alternative to a dangerous, irregular journey to the Gulf

Article | 27 July 2023
Shishay Mulew, 24, in a tailoring room in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Shishay Mulew, a 24 year-old man, embarked on a perilous journey to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in early 2020, leaving his parents and five siblings in Ashgede Tshilla Kebele, Tigray region. With job opportunities scarce in his village and nearby towns, Shishay was driven to find work abroad by a desire to support his family, who struggled to make ends meet through limited farming and a small business.

Well aware of the risks involved in travelling to Saudi Arabia by land (through the Mekelle-Addis Ababa-Jijjiga-Somalia-Yemen route), he saw no other viable option and decided to set off with a friend and a returnee from Saudi Arabia. Their travel involved paying different fees to smugglers in Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen. Recounting the experience, Shishay shared: “These brokers work together and are operating during the whole trip. One hands us over to another in a chain and we were asked to pay every time we were handed over”.

In total, Shishay paid ETB 30,000 (approximately US $577) to different smugglers to reach the Yemen-Saudi Arabia border crossing the Gulf of Eden. At the border, police opened fire and Shishay was hit in his thigh. Shishay was forced to return for medical treatment to Yemen, where he stayed for a year. Without the means to return to Ethiopia, his journey led him to Djibouti where he came in contact with the local Red Cross, which facilitated his way back to Ethiopia. In September 2021, Shishay arrived in Addis Ababa, where he stayed for six months in a shelter managed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and received a medical treatment for his injury.

Shishay was staying in a safe house (shelter) managed by the Agar Ethiopia Charitable Society, a national NGO committed to the socio-economic reintegration of migrant workers, victims of human trafficking and smuggling, and domestic violence. There, he heard about a project that provides vocational skills training, supported by the ILO FAIRWAY programme.  This initiative supported Shishay and 503 other returnees (460 women and 43 men) across Amhara, Addis Ababa, and Oromia regions as part of the Ethiopian government’s national priority to assist returnee migrant workers in achieving sustainable reintegration.

Initially enrolled in a haircutting skills training program alongside three other returnees, Shishay found himself questioning his choice one day. He visited another class located in the same building where some of his friends were participating in a tailoring skills training. "When I considered the market back in my hometown, I realized that there are many haircutting saloons nowadays and many youths don't even go to saloons as they cut their hair at home or among friends" Shishay recalls.

The next day he requested to switch to the tailoring training: "I thought about the local market back in my hometown in Tigray and reached to the conclusion that tailoring skills are much more useful and have a wider market. Once I go back to my hometown, I will train my brother and sisters as I want to start my own tailoring shop. With this skill, I believe that they won’t need to migrate and go through the same hurdles as I did" says Shishay with bright hopeful eyes. He is happy and confident about the skills he obtained through the extensive training, which focuses on practical sessions.

Yet, his dream of starting his tailoring business is still on-hold because of the security situation: “It is difficult to get a job here (in Addis Ababa) as I don't have a national identity card and people will not hire me without it” says Shishay. “Also, because I am from the Tigray region, nobody would like to take on any risk by hiring me". But with the skills he has gained, and the peace process gaining momentum in Tigray, Shishay remains hopeful for a brighter future.