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Winner of the Camille Lepage Award 2020

When I first came to Ethiopia in 2019, I discovered a country on the verge of collapse. There was a shortage of land, everywhere, and what land could be found was either arid and dusty or flooded. Arable land has been a source of conflict between different ethnic groups refusing to accept land redistribution schemes decided by past governments. The harsh climate and tension over land triggered an unprecedented population shift with people moving away from rural areas.

At the time, I was traveling with Ethiopian migrants hoping to reach Saudi Arabia, a country they see as an El Dorado where they can make a decent living. They dream of being laborers there, earning enough to build a proper home for their families.

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But for some that dream will never come true. The path is traveled on foot, over more than 2,000 kilometers, an ordeal sometimes involving threats to their lives and clashes between ethnic groups. Many die of thirst or drown while attempting to cross the Red Sea. By the time they reach war-torn Yemen, they can end up being tortured and exploited by local militia groups and gangs of Ethiopian human traffickers. Many can go no further than Aden, the former capital in the south where migrants unable to pay more will end their journey.

There, in Yemen, a country with no prospects, where uncertainty prevails, I met Moustafa and discovered his plight. Moustafa chose migration as a means of escaping from life on the land, but in Yemen he was hit by a bullet just as he was about to cross the border into Saudi Arabia. After six months of struggle, he was taken back to Ethiopia. There, his father is old and poor, so Moustafa has to survive by begging. But he has another dream now, a dream of exile on a smaller scale, in the capital city of Addis Ababa, so as not to bring dishonor on his family by begging. I see Moustafa’s experience and downward spiral as an example epitomizing the plight of Ethiopia’s younger generation, a generation with no prospects and whose sole option appears to be exile.

I followed Moustafa over two years, and saw a new exodus. By late 2020, the sudden outbreak of war in the region of Tigray forced tens of thousands of families to flee, away from the fighting and bombing, and across the border into Sudan, one of the poorest countries in the world. Here they have now become refugees, not knowing when or even if they will be able to return home one day.

Olivier Jobard

Reports conducted with additional support from Le Figaro Magazine and La Croix Hebdo.

Olivier Jobard

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