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Moving on: Exploring onward migration of refugees and migrants from East Africa

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Executive Summary

Many refugees and migrants do not follow a linear migration journey that leads from a set departure point to a set destination. They may not stay in their initial country of arrival, they could be pushed or compelled to choose alternative destinations or routes, or could unexpectedly settle in a country they intended to transit through. Refugees and migrants often continue moving in search of safer or better circumstances, either out of choice or because they are forced to. This movement from an initial destination to a new destination due to a variety of factors, or onward migration, is intrinsically linked to mixed migration as many people undertaking onward migration journeys are moving along mixed migration routes.

Migration is a highly politicised topic, and onward migration is increasingly attracting political attention with regional and global audiences. Onward migration can be both irregular and regular and legal status can vary, and can change along the journey. This fluidity poses challenges for policy makers on how to regulate such movement, and raises protection concerns, particularly for those who are mandated to assist refugees and migrants. The situation for people who engage in onward migration is of growing urgency, as regular pathways are increasingly limited and people undertake risky and irregular migration journeys.

This Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) report takes an evidence-based approach to onward migration by investigating the dynamics of onward migration and policy responses, with a focus on the East Africa region. The paper considers how the phenomenon of onward migration has been dealt with in global migration literature, including the various ways in which onward migration has been defined. The policy landscape is then explored, focusing on the national and regional policies that directly and indirectly impact on onward migration. The paper then draws from 340 4Mi1 interviews with refugees and migrants engaged in onward migration in East Africa to explore the profiles of people engaged in onward migration, their aspirations and decision-making.