From the other side of the Gulf of Aden, Yemen almost looks like America. A few kilometers of blue sea separate migrants from what they imagine as their promised land, which is often a starting point to reach happier destinations, such as Saudi Arabia. Tens of thousands of people oppressed by war, poverty, hunger, violence, and death, decide travel towards the coast of Yemen on fortuitous boats, with no luggage at all, only with their heart full of dreams and hopes. Yet another exodus that has nothing to do with Europe. They do not cross Libya nor the Balkans. It is the exodus of the invisible people.
Those who depart do not know that Yemen is a country plagued by civil war, a conflict that was not born on its territory, but is the echo of another senseless war, the one between Iran and Saudi Arabia, between Shia and Sunnis. A nation where a few days ago 10 children died because of a Saudi bomb, which killed them on their way back from school. This country has become similar to the territories from where the unaware migrants come, only to realize soon that the “journey of hope” is actually an endless nightmare.
One hundred thousand Ethiopians and Somali embarked on the “boats of death” last year, sailing from the ports of Obock (Djibouti) or Bosaso (Somalia). The number of migrants has been paradoxically increasing over the years, despite people died at sea and Saudis kept bombing. These numbers call for the United Nations to do something in order to contain this wave of despair that breaks on the Yemeni coast.
“People who decide to make this journey do not know what is really happening in Yemen. They are unaware of what they are going to find once they reach their destination, after having faced the dangers of the journey” – explains the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN organization that, together with its international partners, assist migrants both in their countries of origin and in those of destination. Yet, these words fall on deaf ears, because facts show that, despite all efforts to dissuade people from departing, they keep getting on boats and keep dying. A slap in the face of hope.
The crossing is short – 20 km from the closest point of departure and 350 km away from the farthest – but it is the beginning of a true ordeal for the migrants crammed on disintegrating rafts or boats. Packed like animals, they have no water to drink, nor food to eat, and there is no shelter from the sun or the wind. Those who are “lucky” enough reach the other side, arrive exhausted, malnourished, dehydrated, and in a state of shock. It is very likely that women have been abused, deprived of their last shred of dignity.
Once they land in Yemen, those who manage to obtain refugee status find themselves trapped in a burning country, with no possibility to escape or go back. Whereas those who decide to continue their journey towards Saudi Arabia have to cross the desert. During the crossing, the refugees are abused, robbed, and beaten again by the traffickers, whom they entrust their last savings for the chance of a lifetime, the chance to live a life worthy the name.
The journey of other migrants ends much earlier, at sea. Pope Francis has dedicated them a reflection during the World Day of Migrants: “Do not let them steal your hope!” he said. But their hopes often drown in the depths of the Gulf of Aden. Just enough time for a final prayer before finally finding peace.