The Republic of Djibouti is a transit country for one of the busiest, and arguably, the most dangerous migration routes in the world. Each year, thousands of migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia travel to Djibouti, and across the Gulf of Aden towards the Arabian Peninsula along what is now known as the Eastern Route. In 2019, more than 215,710 movements of migrants, mostly of Ethiopian nationality, were recorded at various IOM Flow Monitoring Points (FMPs), of which 49,059 were observed in Obock before their departure for Yemen. Ethiopians travel hundreds of kilometers from their home villages, often on foot, and then travel through the Republic of Djibouti, before crossing the Gulf of Aden into war-torn Yemen mostly in the hopes of reaching the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The following map shows the migration routes through the Republic of Djibouti as well as the main places of embarkation for migrants from the Republic of Djibouti which are also the main points of disembarkation for migrants travelling from the Arabian Peninsula.
II. CONTEXT In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a public health emergency. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the total number of confirmed cases reached 28,637,952 as of 13 September 2020 while 917,417 deaths have been recorded as a result of COVID-19. In addition, the virus has had a significant impact on the mobility of people both regionally and globally.
Following the border closure between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Yemen in April 2020, hundreds of migrants from the Horn of Africa found themselves stranded in Yemen, unable to move forward or to return home. There are currently around 14,500 migrants, mostly Ethiopians, stranded in the country.
Stranded migrants in the country have been transferred by authorities to different provinces where they live in extremely difficult conditions and without access to basic services. Most of them suffer from exclusion and are victims of violence. In addition to that, there is a widespread discriminatory narrative that depicts migrants as carriers of COVID-19, resulting in their being stigmatized by the locals. Unable to reach their final destination, many Ethiopian migrants decide to return home by transiting through Djibouti. This has resulted in return movements from Yemen to Djibouti, as migrants use the services of smugglers to cross the Gulf of Aden, and are transported back to Djibouti, usually disembarking between Moulhoulé and Ras Bir on the Djiboutian coast.