The East and Horn of Africa region
Migrants, asylum seekers and refugees
Policy debate around mixed migration continues to be dominated by the arrival of migrants and refugees in Europe and efforts to stop these flows.
The East and Horn of Africa continues to be one of the world’s main refugee producing and hosting regions. Forced migration is fuelled by wars, violence and persecution. As of September 2019, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that there were more than 3.99 million refugees and asylum seekers displaced within the region. The largest of these groups were being hosted by Uganda (1.35 million), Sudan (1.11 million) and Ethiopia (702,145). South Sudan was the largest source country (2.14 million), followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo (673,600) and Somalia (491,100). The majority (81 percent) of refugees and asylum seekers are women and children, with children making up 59 percent of the caseload.
Even higher numbers were displaced within their countries of origin. Due to a mix of conflict, violence and natural disasters in the region the number of internally displaced persons stood at around twelve million people in the region at the end of 2018.
Data from IDMC suggests that displacement triggered by extreme weather events is on the rise. Within the East and Horn of Africa region specifically, disasters accounted for at least 342,000 internal displacements within Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan in the first half of 2019.
Migration from the region occurs along three main migration routes: 1) the eastern route to Yemen and the Gulf, 2) the southern route towards southern Africa, and 3) the northern route towards North Africa and Europe.
1) The eastern route
The eastern route describes the overland and sea route from the Horn of Africa towards Yemen. The route is almost exclusively used by Ethiopian and Somali nationals, who depart from in and around the coastal towns of Obock in Djibouti and Bosaso in Puntland, Somalia, to cross the Gulf of Aden. A small number of Somalis and Ethiopians remain in Yemen to either apply for asylum or look for work (for example, as khat
Undeterred by the perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden in unworthy sea vessels, the threat of conflict in Yemen, and the strict border controls into Saudi Arabia, the route has been growing in increasing popularity over the last number of years, with arrivals into Yemen peaking in 2018 at an estimated 159,838 persons
The profile of refugees and migrants on this route is almost exclusively Ethiopian nationals (90 percent), with a smaller share of Somalis (ten percent). It is frequented predominantly by young, adult males, who, between January and June 2019, accounted for 72 percent of arrivals in Yemen. In contrast, women made up 18 percent of arrivals, whereas children made up the remaining ten percent.
Refugees and migrants travelling along this route often rely on smugglers to navigate border crossings and avoid detection. Recent estimates suggest that travel from Ethiopia and Somalia to departure points in or near Obock (Djibouti) and Bossaso (Somalia) ranges from $150-350, depending on the route taken. The boat journey to Yemen typically costs between $120-150, with smuggling networks charging a further $500 to cross Yemen and another $800 to cross the border into Saudi Arabia.
Little is known about how successful refugees and migrants travelling along this route are, and how many of them eventually make it into Saudi Arabia. In 2017, official estimates suggested that there were 500,000 migrants of mixed nationality present in KSA,
In March 2017, the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia launched the campaign ‘A Nation without Violations’, in which it granted all undocumented migrants a 90-day amnesty period to leave the country without facing penalties. As of March 2019, 260,000 Ethiopians are estimated to have returned to Ethiopia from Saudi Arabia, of which 216,140 have been registered by IOM. This data, in line with Yemen arrivals data, shows that 72 percent of returnees are young, adult males, 20 percent are adult females, and eight percent are minors.
2) The southern route
The southern route describes the largely overland route from the Horn of Africa, through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe into South Africa. The route remains largely understudied with limited current data available. Research from the Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) in 2017 estimates that 14,570 to 16,580 migrants and refugees travel along this route annually.
The route from the Horn is dominated by Ethiopian and Somali nationals, who according to MMC’s 4Mi (Mixed Migration Monitoring Mechanism Initiative) declare their primary reasons for leaving their countries of origin being political and economic.
The Mixed Migration Monitoring Mechanism Initiative (4Mi)
The Mixed Migration Monitoring Mechanism Initiative (4Mi) is the Mixed Migration Centre’s flagship primary data collection system that helps fill knowledge gaps, and inform policy and response regarding the nature of mixed migratory movements and the protection risks for refugees and migrants on the move. 4Mi field monitors are collecting data through direct interviews with refugees and migrants in West Africa, East Africa and Yemen, North Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe.
4Mi’s male and female monitors conduct in-depth interviews on a continuous basis with men, women and youth. Monitors are trained and closely supervised and use a smart phone-based survey application to record and transmit completed interviews to regional 4Mi hubs for storage and analysis.
4Mi predominantly uses a closed question interview survey to invite respondents to anonymously self-report on a wide range of issues that results in extensive data relating to individual profiles, migratory drivers, means of movement, conditions of movement, the smuggler economy, aspirations and destination choices.*
* For more on 4Mi analysis and details on methodology visit Externer Link: http://www.mixedmigration.org/4mi/4mi_faq/
Refugees and migrants often rely on smugglers or brokers to facilitate all or parts of their journey along this route. An overwhelming 97 percent of migrants interviewed by 4Mi reported that they had used a smuggler to reach their destination. Figures reported by migrants and refugees in South Africa indicate an average cost of $3,372 for the journey from the Horn of Africa. This includes smuggler fees, as well as other associated costs related to transportation and accommodation along the way. Furthermore, over half of those interviewed said they had to make “additional payments” to police, border and immigration officials and smugglers, over and above agreed fees.
3) The northern route
The northern route describes the overland route from the Horn of Africa (principally from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan) towards North Africa, and for some, onwards to Europe, passing through Sudan, Egypt and Libya. This movement converges in North Africa with refugee and migrant flows from West Africa.
Following a peak of sea arrivals in Europe of nationals from the Horn of Africa in 2015 (63,518), figures declined in 2016 (40,773) and more drastically again in 2017 (13,273), as a result of a variety of measures implemented in Libya (and other countries along the route such as Sudan) aimed at reducing irregular migration flows through the country.
Despite this, refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa steadily transit from the region towards North Africa. More than 115,000 people from the Horn were estimated to be in Libya in 2018,
Motivations for movement among refugees and migrants from East and Horn of Africa are varied, and often multifaceted. 4Mi data shows that economic factors, a lack of rights, violence and general insecurity are the three top drivers of movement among young people (18-24 years) on the move from Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.
A breakdown of drivers by nationality often reveals more nuance in reasons for leaving. For example, the data shows that among the four nationalities interviewed, Eritreans had the highest proportion reporting ‘a lack of rights in country of origin’ as a driver at 91 percent compared to Ethiopians (44 percent) and Somali respondents (11 percent).
The data also revealed a direct relationship between youth’s level of education and economic drivers. Respondents with a lower level of education were more likely to give economic reasons as one of the reasons for leaving.
There are a number of overarching/international conventions, policies, and frameworks in place to govern how countries in the East and Horn of Africa region deal with flight and migration.
UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and Its Protocol (1967)
Almost all countries in the region are parties to the Refugee Convention and its protocol
OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (1969)
The 1969 Organization of African Unity (OAU) Refugee Convention expands the 1951 definition of a refugee to include those fleeing from external aggression, occupation, foreign domination, or an event seriously disturbing public order. All countries in the region have signed the Convention. However, in some countries it has neither been ratified nor entered into force.
African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention)
The Kampala Convention, adopted in 2009, provides detailed guidance on how African states should deal with internal displacement. Some of the rules in the convention – such as those tackling safe and voluntary return, and access to compensation and other forms of reparation – go farther than existing UN guidelines on internal displacement. Signature and ratification of the Kampala Convention in the region is sporadic, as shown in the table below.
States in the East and Horn of Africa region and their progress regarding signature and ratification of the Kampala Convention
Source: African Union (2019): List of Countries which Have Signed, Ratified/Acceded to the African Union Convention for the Protection and assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention).
Externer Link: African Union Convention for the Protection and assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention)(last accessed: 16/10/2019).
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has made several recommendations for the implementation of the Kampala Convention, primary among them ratification and incorporation into national law. Other recommendations include, ensuring adequate planning, management and monitoring of protection activities and finding durable solutions for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
The African Union Migration Policy Framework was adopted in 2006, with aims to:
develop a strategic framework for migration policy in Africa that will contribute to solve challenges posed by migration
work towards free movement of people within Africa
create a conducive environment to facilitate the participation of migrants, and particularly those in the diaspora, to engage in the development of their countries of origin.
It gives strategic priority to migration governance, labor migration and education, diaspora engagement, border governance, irregular migration, forced displacement, internal migration, and the area of migration and trade.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Regional Migration Policy Framework (2012) builds on the foundation of the AU Migration Policy Framework and adapts it to the context of the IGAD region, which includes the countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. The IGAD migration policy framework focuses on security and stability, crisis prevention and conflict resolution, migrant rights, poverty and conflict, climate change, environment and adaptation, gender and vulnerable groups. IGAD has also adopted a Protocol on Free Movement and Transhumance
The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants
In September 2016, the UN General Assembly convened a High-Level Summit to discuss approaches to address large movements of people across international borders. The outcome – the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants – expressed the political will of world leaders to save lives, protect rights and share responsibility on a global scale. A further outcome of this commitment was the development and adoption of two non-binding Compacts in December 2018: the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and the Global Compact on Migration (GCM).
With ongoing instability in the East and Horn of Africa region, the number of refugees and asylum seekers as well IDPs is not likely to decrease in the near future. Macro trends such as increasing populations in the global south, an increased demand for jobs with limited supply, and the compounding effects of urbanization and climate change will continue to push people to move in search of better opportunities. Scarce financial resources hinder the implementation of intergovernmental and supranational agreements on migrants and refugees and pose an obstacle to the protection of their rights.