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A Region on the Move: 2020 Mobility Overview in the East and Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula

Originally published



The COVID-19 outbreak has marked the beginning of a new global paradigm, where unprecedented shifts in the capacity of governments to issue multiple restrictive measures impacting movements were observed in a highly fluid mobility environment. In line with a continental trend, the EHoA was less severely affected by the pandemic from a health perspective, and countries have been progressively lifting some movement restrictions during the second half of the year. However, the pandemic is far from over, as governments and authorities continue to issue new mobility restrictions and policy changes, while the socio-economic impact of repeated lockdowns and renewed closures of points of entry (PoEs) are yet to be fully assessed.

Home to an estimated population of 331 million, of which 42 per cent are under the age of 15, the region hosted 6.2 million international migrants at mid-year 2020. With over 6.5 million IDPs and more than 3.6 million refugees and asylum-seekers recorded by the end of the year, countries in the EHoA have continued to experience significant levels of internal and cross-border mobility, although at a reduced pace. Mobility in the region is still triggered by a combination of persistent insecurity and conflict, harsh climatic shocks and conditions, in addition to socio-economic drivers and more traditional seasonal factors, fueling intra- and extra-regional movements. These intertwined flows of IDPs, migrants and refugees are strongly influenced by historical and cultural links such as those tying similar communities separated by borders in the HoA and in the Great Lakes region, as well as by dynamics of labour supply and demand, locally and towards the Gulf countries. At the same time, the pandemic has also generated new trends, while exacerbating existing vulnerabilities of the most fragile population groups.

Hosting some of the world’s most severe protracted displacement contexts, the region has also witnessed new waves of displacement due to hostilities affecting the Tigray region of Ethiopia since the beginning of November. Multiple countries were also hit by repeated drought, a cyclone, and regular flash and riverine floods. The pandemic has also accentuated the existing socio-economic vulnerabilities of these displaced populations and further hampered the achievement of sustainable and durable solutions. These aspects are further investigated in the Forced Displacement section with a focus on four countries which have reported the most volatile conditions in 2020.

New mobility trends were particularly evident along the Eastern Route, which runs from the HoA to the Arabian Peninsula, in particular to Saudi Arabia, and which has long been the most relevant migratory corridor in the region in terms of volume and characteristics. At the beginning of the outbreak, when restrictions were the most severe, a switch in routes was observed as migrants attempted to cross through Somalia rather than Djibouti where border closures were enforced more effectively. Soon enough, many stranded migrants were reported in different parts of the Horn, unable to proceed or return to their place of origin. The increased pressure, coupled with fears of contamination, resulted in a widespread xenophobic and discriminatory narrative, limited or curtailed access to coping strategies and basic services along the journey, in addition to episodes of detentions and deportations. By the end of the year, it is estimated that at least 2,700 migrants were stranded across the region, with a further 32,700 EHoA migrants stranded in Yemen, out of which an estimated 6,200 were in detention. In 2020, only 37,535 new arrivals from the HoA were tracked along the coast of Yemen compared to the same period in 2019, corresponding to a reduction of 73 per cent. Overall, this corridor reported a 66 per cent decrease in movements due to a sharp fall in monthly movements as of March 2020 (from 468,234 movements in 2019 to 157,702 in 2020). Most interestingly and of relevance were the return trends observed from Saudi Arabia and Yemen to the Horn, which were halted or reduced during the year, whereas an increasing number of migrants were observed to return spontaneously from Yemen to the Horn using the same network of smugglers. The complexities, risks and consequences of such revamped bi-directional trends are analyzed in depth in the Regional Mixed Migration Trends section, together with an analysis of migrant movements along the other main corridors affecting the EHoA.

This edition builds on multiple IOM data sources, whereby the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) constitutes the main methodology used to track and monitor displacement and population mobility, as it maps IDP and returnee stocks, migration flows and characteristics of populations on the move.

Further migrant data is collected by IOM through modules targeting specific sub-groups of these populations at different stages of their migration journey. The analysis is further enriched through findings of multiple research efforts being conducted along the Eastern and Southern Routes, as well as external sources to provide a holistic understanding of the articulated population movement dynamics stemming from this region. To this end, a Regional Data Hub (RDH) was established at the beginning of 2018 to promote evidence-based migration dialogue, lead regional research efforts and foster a multi-layered analysis of regional migration data.