A group of 147 Ethiopian migrants detained in Zambian jails for between one and five years returned home last week, with the help of IOM.
The migrants, who included 11 children, started their journeys at different times over the course of 2011 and 2015.
Most of them were headed for South Africa, where they were hoping to find employment and join family members already living and working there.
With the help of smugglers, they travelled from Ethiopia through Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia – a journey of approximately 4,000 km – which took between two to three weeks.
The migrants reported having paid between USD 4,000 and USD 5,000 to smugglers.
“My brother and my father paid the smugglers 90,000 Ethiopian Birrs (USD 4,000). They then gave me around USD 200 pocket money, but the ‘bosses’ (smugglers ‘appointed’ in each country) took my money and gave us little food and water during our journey. When we were in Tanzania we didn’t eat for two days. Sometimes we had to sleep in the forest, on the wet ground,” said Tamrat Desalgn, a 23-year-old migrant from the southern part of Ethiopia.
Undocumented migrants in Zambia normally receive a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison for “consenting to be smuggled”.
Migrants are mostly unaware they are at risk of imprisonment once they cross the Zambian border from Tanzania.
“When the day of our court hearing came, we were all given 15-year sentences. I was shocked….I couldn’t understand why 15 years. That day we all sat under a tree and cried. We cried under that tree every day for a week. We were worried about our future,” said Desalgn.
Following intense advocacy by the Ethiopian government, UN and NGO partners, the 147 migrants were pardoned by President Edgar Lungu on 24 December 2016.
Immediately after the pardon, IOM Zambia conducted an assessment of the migrants and found them to be all eligible to be returned home to Ethiopia under IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration program.
With the help of the Zambian government and the Ethiopian embassy in Harare, identification documents were provided to all the migrants, together with food, clothes, air tickets to Addis Ababa and a travel allowance of approximately USD 40 per each migrant.
“We are very satisfied with how swiftly we were able to assist the migrants return home following the pardon by the Zambian President. By working closely with the Immigration Department, the Zambia Correctional Services and the Ethiopian embassy in Harare, we ensured the safe return of people, many of whom had lost hope of returning home after spending a long time in prison,” said Abibatou Wane, IOM Zambia’s Chief of Mission.
On 26 January 2017, the migrants boarded a plane from Lusaka, Zambia, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where they spent the night at IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Returnees’ Transit Centre before travelling to their homes.
The 11 children were taken to a children’s shelter where IOM, in partnership with UNICEF, is currently assisting them with family tracing.
The operation was funded by a pool of donors including the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, IOM’s Global Assistance Fund and IOM’s non-profit US Association for International Migration (USAIM).
But credit went to PF government. But PF???
What crime these people commit for tansiting to south africa via Zambia. So going to SA via Zambia is now an immigration offence. This is totally new to me.
Does Zambia have visa requirements with ethiopia? If not then it makes no sense to detain these guys in Zambia for going to SA via Zambia.
To me this was deal gone sour with one of PF stooges in immigration department.
@wanzelu, are you really that daft? How can a person with proper travel documents need SMUGGLERS to transport him/her from Country to Country? And what Country on earth just allows people/foreigners to transit through their borders without proper and necessary documents?
Does the story above claim that these people were in possession of proper documents which allowed them to transit through Zambia and instead the Zambian Govt just detained them for ridiculous reasons you are talking about here? Even if you hate the PF, this is simply INTELLECTUAL LAZINESS of the highest order on your part bro. Get serious, will you?!
This is absolutely ridiculous. Why send undocumented immigrants to prison for 15 years? And yet you let corrupt government leaders who’re stealing millions of kwachas walk away free? This law is not right and it must be changed. Unless an undocumented immigrant has committed a serious crime, they don’t deserve to be imprisoned for that unreasonable lenghth of time. We’re all Africans and these are some of the things the AU ought to be looking into, instead of just patting each on the backs at their meetings, while the suffering African people die in the Mediterranean sea in thousands trying to escape the despots and grinding poverty. And now we’re incarcerating our own brothers and sisters and children for 15 years for simply being found in the country without proper papers. What a…
(Continued)… shame. No wonder Africa will continue to be a laughing stock to the rest of the world.
staying in Zambian Prison is tantamount to DEATH penalty. ECL is a Hero.
There is too ignorance
Wonder why they run away from Great Ethiopia in the first place. Home of Rastafari…..and full of beautiful women.
Wanzelu, get serious, maybe you are living in utopia in the diaspora. Late last year smugglers locked the Ehiopia in an airless truck container fairing them from COngo via Zambia to SA , upon arrival at the border the driver bolted the smuggled Ethiopias about 21-24 were all dead. Was that also caused by PF? Mulenda ifyacime ba Wanzelu.
Smugglers are criminals and need to be sent to prison for a long time, but not the people being smuggled, who are just trying to find a better life for themselves and their children. If they’re caught (the people being smuggled) they should be sent back home immediately instead of incarcerating them for long periods of time.
Sorry Ethiopians and ifyacine.
Very wrong and sad to detain fellow Africans in such a manner. One day we may all become refugees just like the Israelites!Who ever thought that what was called the pearl of West Africa Liberia would turn into a living hell due to civil war? Who thought Somalia the most beautiful country in the Horn of Africa would become a war-zone? Even Libyans never thought their prosperous nation would become un livable! Life is uncertain, let’s not take peace for granted and let’s always welcome and be hospitable to refugees!
But 15 years Just for walking on Zambian soil? That’s the highest kind of human rights abuse I have ever come across. Futi government aina nzelu, because for the years they are kept in jail the tax payer has to pay for their lively hood. How fair is it even keeping children in jail depriving them of better education and robbing them of their childhood just because they trespassed through Zambia. Shame! Hats off to the Organization that came to their rescue and Shame for Lungu’s brainless government.
It’s about time you all wake up and smell the roses…there is hardship all over and if one chooses to relocate let them go. I completely agree with Wanzelu’s point.
Most of you on this post are abroad immigrants trying to make a living elyo imwe ba Yambayamba muleyumfwa na ingwa twenu.
We are all humans let’s all help one another. Don’t be like Trump
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