Meine Merkliste Geteilte Merkliste PDF oder EPUB erstellen

Forced and Mixed Migration Dynamics in the East and Horn of Africa | East Africa |

East Africa Ethiopia Encampment Policy in Kenya South Sudanese Women Eritrea Uganda East and Horn of Africa

Forced and Mixed Migration Dynamics in the East and Horn of Africa

Olivia Akumu

/ 13 Minuten zu lesen

There is a high level of mobility in the East Africa and Horn of Africa region: Many people migrate within their countries of origin or across national borders. An important – but not the only – reason for human movement is displacement due to war and violence.

Migrants at the shore of Lake Albert in Uganda. The largest groups of migrants and asylum seekers were being hosted by Uganda (1.35 million), Sudan (1.11 million) and Ethiopia (702,145). (© dpa)

The East and Horn of Africa region is characterized by high mobility patterns, as a region of origin, transit and destination. Movement is triggered by a myriad of factors, which are often varied and interrelated. A combination of ongoing and renewed conflict, persecution, endemic poverty, drought, as well as personal aspirations and a desire to secure personal freedoms contribute to complex population movements.

Migrants, asylum seekers and refugees often travel along similar routes through and out of the region – a trend that is referred to as mixed migration. They often use smugglers to navigate across borders, checkpoints and to avoid detection by authorities. They face significant dangers while on their journeys, and are often exposed to a wide range of abuses including physical and sexual abuse, kidnapping, extortion, detention and even death.

Policy debate around mixed migration continues to be dominated by the arrival of migrants and refugees in Europe and efforts to stop these flows.

Forced displacement

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. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), persistent instability in Ethiopia, fuelled by ethnic tensions and border disputes in the Amhara and Oromia regions, has resulted in some of the highest levels of new internal displacement in 2019. There were 522,000 new displacements due to conflict and violence in Ethiopia between January and June 2019 alone.

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. Droughts in Somalia force people to travel longer distances than in the past in search of water, food and livestock pasture.

Migration Routes

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 farmers, domestic workers or low-skilled laborers). The vast majority, however, intend to transit the country into the neighboring Gulf States – the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in particular – to look for work opportunities.

Estimated number of Ethiopian and Somali migrants arriving in Yemen 2010 – 2019 (Interner Link: Download figure) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

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 International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that 138,213 persons arrived in Yemen during 2019 (see figure 1). The number of arrivals was thus slightly lower than arrivals recorded in the previous year. At the current pace, just over 11,000 persons are travelling along this route per month. However, it is likely that the number of people crossing this route is much higher, but it cannot be adequately recorded due to the ongoing conflict in Yemen and the related challenges in accessing the coastal areas where arrivals are counted.

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, although figures could be higher.

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. According to IOM, the proportion of voluntary returns from Saudi Arabia has shown a downward trajectory since 2017, with 35 percent of returns in early 2017 being voluntary, and dropping to around one percent in 2018.

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:

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, and by September 2019, East Africans made up almost half of the 45,879 refugees and asylum seekers in Libya. UNHCR figures show that most of the 6,441 new arrivals registered in camps in eastern Sudan between January and July 2019 were Eritrean. Refugees and migrants using this route rely on highly specialized smuggling networks to make the journey. According to research conducted by UNHCR, the reported average price for the full journey from the country of origin to Libya was $5,500, with prices ranging from $800 to $14,000. Payment schemes vary from upfront payment for the entire journey, and payment in stages along the journey. The latter is generally associated with a higher risk of bonded labor, human trafficking or kidnap for ransom, as it erodes refugees and migrants’ safeguards against unscrupulous smugglers. Refugees and migrants travelling along this route are exposed to a number of extreme protection risks, ranging from kidnap and captivity, torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading practices, including sexual violence, bonded labor, and general insecurity.


Reasons for leaving among 18-24 year olds from Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia (Interner Link: Download figure) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

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.

Migration governance

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 , which defines who a refugee is, and sets out the rights and responsibilities of individuals who are granted asylum, as well as the responsibilities of nations granting asylum.

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

CountrySigned Ratified Deposited
South Sudanyesyesyes

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 , emphasizing its efforts to reduce obstacles to migration within the region.

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.

Weitere Inhalte

Olivia Akumu is specialist and project manager at the Mixed Migration Centre's regional hub in Nairobi, Kenya. Her research focuses on mixed migration movements in East Africa and the Horn of Africa.