Youth Migration


It can be said that the Irob youth gave up on Irobland, but are they to be blamed? Besides the challenges described under “Border problem” section, there are additional push and pull factors in play when it comes to the overall crisis of the Irob youth and their mass migration out of Irobland.


Irobland is a mountainous region with only less than 2% of its 90,000ha landmass arable, not apt for farming. Instead, for a long time, it has been suitable for grazing. The main livelihood of the Irob people, therefore, has been based on pasturing. However, livestock carrying capacity declined as the population grew and droughts have become more frequent and severer due to the changing climate. According to the Tigray Livelihood Report, which is part of the broader Livelihood Atlas of Ethiopia project, Irob belongs to "Erob Mountain" (Irob Mountain) livelihood zone. This livelihood zone that covers only Irob Woreda, describes that the region suffers from acute and chronic food insecurity and has been dependent on food aid for the 50 years.

Irobs tried transition into innovative crop-livestock mixed livelihood. Two particularly notable innovations from Irob famers are: the “Setan Madwa/Daladal” and “Sangade Pastureland Management Institution”. Setan Madwa/Daladal is a special way of terracing valleys and gorges to harness silt and water from torrential seasonal flush floods. This indigenous innovation has been recognized by UNESCO as one of the best indigenous land husbandry techniques. The Sangade institution is a customary regulation mechanism developed by Irob farmers to regulate grazing intensity and rotation of “Sangade pastureland”. Permanent settlement is banned from this area and every village has a clearly defined portion that they manage and graze for about three to four months starting from the onset of drought season. These innovative practices and many more unexplored did help for few decades. However, these technics are solely dependent on the rainfall which has become very scanty and extremely irregular, making it difficult for farmers to plan their agricultural activities.

This fact, called for another transition and longer-term strategy to modernize agriculture, e.g. introducing micro-irrigation, or transition into different industry altogether. Unfortunately, there was none such and caused frustration and sense of resignation among the youth. As a result, Irob youth started looking for better life elsewhere starting as early as 1970s. Saudi-Arabia has been one of those early destinations, especially for those who had no opportunity to get education.

This already bad situation hit rock bottom with the spark of the 1998 Eritrean invasion of the region. The occupation of Irobland for two years, the war that followed in 2000, and the postwar stand off for over two decades, left Irob people in total despair and trauma.


Globalization coupled with greater exposure to modern means of communication is playing a role here. Unlike in the past, these days’ youth is informed and connected albeit occasionally. With the pervasive information flow, it is natural for the helpless youth to try to escape the war torn, politically unstable and ecologically degraded areas. Nature and man created problems combined make it difficult for the youth to lead a normal lifestyle. It is in the middle of all this disrupted life that the opportunist human traffickers take advantage to recruit their youth victims. They promise their victims a land of honey and milk. They pursue them presenting all kinds of photos and moves simulating the would-be life awaiting them at their destination. This is how the pull factor is promoted and the unsuspected youth is ruled in.

Because of these inhumane activities many lives are lost, families traumatized and those made it to their destinations do not find the rosy life they were foretold. Moreover, both the migrants and their families remain trapped in deep debt for years as each migrant had to pay insane amounts of ransom for their smugglers during the journey. If they fail to pay, the smugglers will put them through torture and even sell the organs of their captives as the last option. Even for those who could pay, their troubles are not over as many vanish from starvation and thirst in the deserts and /or in the seas trying to make it to their dream destinations.


Irob youth crisis is IAA's top priority project alongside the border, the impacts of the current war in Tigray, and the abductees problems. IAA intends to work on two fronts (at home and abroad) to tackle this problem.

  1. Coordinate with the governmental and non-governmental agencies at home to mitigate this crisis by tackling the push factors. These measures may include putting pressure on the government and NGOs engaging with Irob community to create economic opportunities for Irob youth at home, social counseling and trauma healing projects, creating youth co-ops and social clubs.

  2. IAA will also prompt the government to do all in its capacity to identify and dismantle the outrageous human trafficking network preying on Irob youth.

  3. IAA will work with the social departments of the religious organizations at home to help with the social crises and trauma of this post-war community.

  4. Abroad, IAA will engage with international communities like the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other refugee organizations dealing with migration and smuggling as global phenomenon.

  5. IAA will also research possibilities to help with legal support and settlement of Irob migrants in their respective host countries, fund-raising for projects at home to tackle the root causes, and safe repatriation for those who wish to return home.