Mixed migration flows within, from and to the East Africa and Yemen region continued to be affected by a number of complex dynamics, including conflict, drought and economic reasons among others.
Migrants, asylum seekers and refugees continued to be at a significant risk of harm, ranging from abduction, physical abuse and death on land and at sea. Policy considerations remained focussed on limiting irregular migration, particularly to Europe.
Irregular Movement from East Africa and Yemen
Northward (through Egypt into Israel)
There were limited reports concerning movements of asylum seekers and migrants from the Horn of Africa towards Israel during this quarter, suggesting that the Northward route remains unsuccessful and to some extent inoperative.
Migration movements through Egypt and across the Mediterranean Sea towards Italy however, continued to be used by those travelling from the Horn. In a persistent effort to show strength against human smuggling networks, the Egyptian government sentenced 56 people up to 14 years in prison over the capsizing of a boat off the country’s coast in September 2016, regarded as one of the deadliest to have happened in the Mediterranean Sea crossings. The 56 were charged under a new anti-human smuggling law, effected by the Egyptian government in late 2016, the first of its kind in the country.
Eastward (towards Yemen)
As witnessed in the final quarter of 2016, arrivals of migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn Africa to Yemen continued to decline this quarter. At least 15,948 persons (78 percent Ethiopian and 22 percent Somali) departed from Obock, Djibouti and coastal areas near Bossaso, Puntland towards Yemen in this period. Arrivals dropped by 17 percent when compared to the final quarter of 2016, and a more significant 44 percent when compared to the first quarter of 2016. Reports surrounding the deportation of those arriving in Yemen, which first surfaced in September 2016, continued during this quarter and seem to indicate that fewer migrants and asylum seekers are choosing to travel to Yemen in the current context.
A number of other reasons could also be contributing to reduced movement along the route. Firstly, the ongoing conflict in Yemen continues to have an impact on monitoring missions in the country, and it is understood that the total number of arrivals into Yemen could have been higher during the period.
Secondly, the ongoing drought situation in the Horn of Africa is reported to have devastating effects on food insecurity, livestock and livelihoods. It is likely that resources typically available to fund migration journeys have been depleted during the period, resulting in fewer migrants deciding to migrate.
Moreover, many Ethiopians arriving in Yemen are from farming communities, most affected by drought conditions.
In March 2017, Saudi Arabia announced a 90-day grace period for undocumented migrants in the country to regularise their immigration status. According to the government, all migrants taking advantage of this amnesty will be exempt from any fines or penalties usually ascribed for such violations, and those voluntarily leaving the country during the grace period will be eligible to apply for re-entry though legal immigration procedures. A similar campaign was instituted between April and November 2013, after which more than 170,000 Ethiopians were deported from Saudi Arabia between November 2013 and March 2014. Typically, the majority of Ethiopian migrants entering Yemen continue their journeys onwards to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Based on arrivals figures in Yemen, almost 260,000 Ethiopian migrants have entered Yemen between April 2014 and March 2017, giving an indication of how many Ethiopians could potentially be affected by the policy. The looming threat of deportation could also be having an effect on the numbers of Ethiopians choosing to migrate to Yemen (and onward to Saudi Arabia), who may be biding their time as they wait for the situation to unfold. It remains to be seen whether this trend will continue throughout the year.
The proportion of Somalis travelling to Yemen this quarter (22 percent) is almost on par with the final quarter of 2016 (24 percent), but significantly higher than preceding quarters. In terms of absolute numbers however, the number of Somalis arriving this quarter is actually 24 percent lower than the final quarter of 2016, suggesting that their relative proportional increase is as a result of a reduced number of Ethiopians travelling, and not an increase in flows from Somalia.
In keeping with recent trends, Ethiopians of Oromo descent continue to make up the majority of Ethiopian nationals travelling to Yemen, accounting for some 87 percent of migrants interviewed between January and March 2017. During the quarter, the Ethiopian parliament voted unanimously to extend the state of emergency that was instituted in October 2016 (due to end on April 9, 2017) by an additional four months. Ethiopia imposed the martial law following a spate of anti-government protests, resulting in the arrest of more than 11,000 people, which some reports suggest were targeted at Ethiopians of Oromo ethnicity. The increased proportion of Ethiopian Oromos within these flows, up from around 50 percent in 2014, indicates a possible correlation between the situation in Ethiopia and outward migration flows. That being said, only a handful of Oromos (27 persons) migrating this quarter did so for protection reasons and indicated that they were intending to seek asylum in Yemen. The majority of Ethiopians cited economic reasons for travelling to Yemen, such as a lack of livelihoods or employment opportunities, or a reduced income due to effects of the drought on their crop and livestock, indicating that economic factors remain the main driver of Ethiopian migration towards Yemen and Gulf states.
In the opposite direction, arrivals of refugees, returnees and third country nationals from Yemen into the Horn of Africa stayed fairly steady over the past three quarters. 2,480 persons arrived into the region (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan) between January and March 2017. By 31 March 2017, a total of 95,078 persons had sought refuge in the Horn since the outbreak of conflict in Yemen in March 2015. Intensified conflict in certain areas of Yemen kept internal displacement high – 2 million persons at the end of the quarter.
Based on these numbers and reports of fees payed to smugglers, RMMS estimates that the illicit migrant smuggling economy on the southern route is worth at least USD 47 million per year.
Migrants from the Horn of Africa continue to be at risk from detention and deportation on their journeys. In January 2017, a group of 147 Ethiopian migrants were supported to repatriate from Zambia. The migrants were facing prison sentences for irregularly entering the country, and were recently pardoned by the Zambian president. In another group, six migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia were deported from Zimbabwe after being apprehended as they crossed into the country from Zambia.
RMMS 4Mi data shows that other abuses, including physical and sexual abuse, extortion, robbery and death are also prevalent on the southern route towards South Africa.