Authorities in Somalia's self-declared autonomous region of Puntland have begun repatriating hundreds of Ethiopian migrants, officials told IRIN.
"These are people who decided they wanted to return but could not afford to do so," said Mohamud Jama Muse, director of the Migration Response Centre (MRC) in Bosasso, Puntland's capital.
He said thousands of Ethiopians and Somalis were in Bosasso, with the intention of crossing into Yemen or to find work.
"We have so far repatriated 490 Ethiopian migrants," said Maher Ahmed, senior operations and programme manager with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Ahmed said that 12 flights had been chartered and IOM was providing airport assistance in Bosasso and Ethiopia.
He said: "We will provide them with US$30 for transport to their home areas and, once there, give them a reintegration package."
Individuals over 18 are given $260 and those younger $110 as part of the reintegration package, he said, adding that "90 percent of those repatriated were women and children".
The continued voluntary repatriation of Ethiopians depended on available funding, Ahmed said.
Joining the queue
Muse said MRC had registered another 1,200 Ethiopians who wanted to return home. He said many had been unable to cross to Yemen or find jobs in Bosasso. "There are no jobs here and they run out of money, so they cannot pay the smugglers."
Adam Nisha Dakabu, an Ethiopian who came to Bosasso to go to Yemen and then Saudi Arabia, said: "I wanted to go but could not because I could not raise the money. I could not find anything to do here, so when I heard about this I registered myself to return."
He said life in Bosasso was very difficult. "At least at home I will be with my family."
Muse said that in response to tough measures taken by the Puntland authorities against smugglers, "it was becoming more and more difficult and expensive for would-be migrants to find boats".
He added that because of the crackdown, smugglers were reportedly charging $200 or more for the trip to Yemen. In the past they charged $50-$75 for the one-to-three-day journey.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 74,000 people crossed the Red Sea from the Horn of Africa to Yemen in 2009 - up 50 percent on 2008.
The number of Somali migrants remained steady in 2008 and 2009, while the number of Ethiopians rose sharply to 42,000 in 2009, UNHCR said. So far in 2010, 5,032 migrants have crossed and four have died.