Thirty-year-old Imanu grew up as an orphan, raised in a small village in Uganda by her grandparents. Shortly after completing high school, she got married and soon became a mother of three. After her marriage ended, Imanu focused on raising her children.

“I struggled to provide for my children’s basic needs, including food and education,” says Imanu. “I am deeply indebted to my grandparents who have helped me along the way.”

Amid life’s adversities, Imanu caught wind of tales from relatives and friends detailing high-wage work opportunities in the Gulf countries. Gradually, the idea of migration took root in her mind.

Defying all warnings and fears, she traveled without informing any relatives, leaving everything behind, driven by the hope of securing a better future for her children.

Along her grueling journey, Imanu took a job as a housekeeper in a small village. Unfortunately, her experience took a dark turn. “I asked for my salary, but the housemistress told me she would not give me any money. She insisted that receiving food should be more than enough.”

With Dr. Mona, Imanu finds healing through a therapeutic drawing activity. Photo: IOM/Basma Ali Mubarak

Imanu was then smuggled to Yemen, where another family took her in. Regrettably, she faced exploitation once again, being forced to work without pay. Her employer harassed her when she dared to demand her rights. 

“I often thought about escaping, but we lived in an arid area in the middle of the mountains with no houses or roads, so it was impossible for me to leave,” Imanu explains.

Over the following months, she meticulously planned her escape. At times, the idea of taking her own life crossed her mind as a desperate means to end her suffering.

“Whenever thoughts of suicide surfaced, the innocent faces of my children and their sweet laughter brought me back, compelling me to endure the bitterness of my days,” she says.

A community of women at the centre, each with a unique journey, come together to heal and inspire one another. Photo: IOM/Basma Ali Mubarak

Imanu eventually summoned the courage to attempt to escape. She embarked on a challenging journey that stretched over four agonizing weeks. Discovering a road frequented by vehicles, she sought refuge inside a wrecked car. In this makeshift sanctuary, travelers and migrants passing by became her lifeline, offering her food and water.

“I stayed in that car leave until a bus stopped and a woman emerged,” she recalls. “She was like an angel, urging me to join her. Initially, I hesitated – I had lost trust in everyone.”

Dr. Mona, a psychiatrist with the International Organization for Migration in Aden, Yemen, was deeply moved the first time she met Imanu. “Once she agreed to come with me, I escorted her to IOM’s Community-Based Care (CBC), where I helped her bathe.”

IOM’s mobile medical team tried to talk to her, but she did not respond. During her first month at the CBC, she was unable to speak, afraid of everyone who tried to approach her. However, the team patiently helped her open up again through drawing and therapeutical activities.

“I’ve been receiving care and support for over a year at IOM’s CBC in Aden,” Imanu says. “I love everyone here as if they were my family; we share meals and listen to each other’s painful stories, but we take pride in having overcome them.” 

Imanu finds a voice in her drawings, reflecting her journey of strength, hope, and healing. Photo: IOM/Basma Ali Mubarak

IOM also supports stranded migrants in Yemen through its voluntary humanitarian return. With optimism in her heart, Imanu now anticipates a reunion with her children in the near future.

IOM’s protection assistance through the Migrant Response Points and CBCs in Yemen is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid, United States Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and the Government of Germany.