Crossing the Gate of Tears: Pt I

By Kavya Verma

    With 68.5 million people displaced across the world, and right-wing movements in the West capitalizing on the influx of Middle Eastern migrants, there is a stream of overlooked two-way migration occurring across the Red Sea.

    Yemen and Djibouti are separated by the 25 km-wide Bab-el-Mandeb strait, whose name literally translate to ‘the gate of tears’. Djibouti sits right at the Horn of Africa, and its sea boundary with Yemen is part of a historic trade route that now is used by those fleeing conflict, discrimination, and a lack of opportunity to flee to a place perceived to be comparatively safe.

    Since the Houthis overthrew the Yemeni government, and foreign actors began to get involved (in March 2015), 35,000 Yemenis have come to Djibouti in what many had hoped would be a temporary stay. With the conflict becoming an increasingly significant humanitarian crisis, and foreign actors continuing to have a vested interest in its continuation, it is unlikely that the Yemeni migrant population in Djibouti will be able to return to the Yemen they previously knew anytime soon.

    While many relocate to the capital and attempt to rebuild the lives they once knew, thousands remain in the refugee camps of northern Djibouti. The brutal living conditions and limited opportunities encountered in these camps have already driven 500 Yemenis to brave the journey back to their war-torn homeland.

Many of those choosing the conflict-ridden Yemen are migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, one group that has a history of crossing the Strait is male members of the Ethiopian Oromo ethnic group, especially back when Yemen was not an active conflict zone. Many seek employment in the wealthier Gulf states performing tasks the citizens do not wish to.

    A particularly grim opinion piece in the EU edition of Politico pointed out how many of these individuals who continue to go to war torn Yemen in hopes of a better future lack access to information on the condition in Yemen.

    While traumatized Yemenis cross the strait in hopes of finding relative peace only to deal with what some find to be an even greater disappointment, many long-persecuted and impoverished migrants from sub-Saharan Africa continue to make the risky trip not even aware that on the way lies war and misery.

    As conflict persists in Djibouti and its neighbor Eritrea over their shared border, citizens of each nation look eastward to the comparative wealth of the Gulf states. Saudi Arabia has been criticized over its Nitaqat scheme, which aims to reduce the number of foreign workers significantly and lower the domestic unemployment rate. Many of those who cross, and are aware of the scheme, risk their lives and pay sizable sums to traffickers for what ends up being nothing.

    While people on both sides of the ‘gate of tears’ risk their lives to find only varying degrees of misery, the only group that profits are human traffickers, those who prey on the final hopes of society’s weakest.