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Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat Briefing Paper 5: Weighing the Risks - Protection risks and human rights violations faced by migrants in and from East Africa (October 2017)

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This paper builds on nearly 4,000 interviews with migrants and smugglers to present an analysis of the protection incidents occurring along the four main migratory routes within and from the Horn of Africa (North-west towards Libya and Europe, East towards Yemen and the Gulf, Northern towards Egypt and Europe, and South towards South Africa). Quantitative surveys and qualitative statements collected from September 2014 to March 2017 through the Mixed Migration Monitoring Mechanism Initiative (4Mi) depict an in-depth overview of the multiple human rights violations facing migrants on their journey. Divided into thematic sub-chapters, the paper outlines statistics and hotspots for the main incidents investigated.
Quotes from migrants and smugglers are included to detail individual experiences and perspectives. Findings complement the existing literature on migrant’s smuggling and abuse in the Horn of Africa and allow for a closer look at new trends in this field.

Summary of Key Findings

Regardless of their destination, migrants from the Horn of Africa face serious protection risks on their journeys. Previous research has well documented the plight suffered by people on the move, focusing on specific abuses or dangerous locations along their route. The purpose of this study is to present an updated overview of the human rights violations facing migrants travelling from the Horn of Africa, by analyzing nearly 4,000 interviews collected along the main migratory routes from the region over a period of three years (2014 – 2017). Backed by a wide range of secondary sources from a variety of international organizations and researchers working in the field of migration, the new data collected by the RMMS Mixed Migration Monitoring Mechanism Initiative (4Mi) highlights the magnitude of the abuses faced by migrants in countries of origin, transit and destination. Key findings of this study reveal that:

  • 79 per cent of all migrants interviewed have either directly witnessed or experienced one or multiple abuses during their journey, including extortion, sexual violence and torture. The figures collected suggest that some migrants might have experienced the same abuse (including kidnappings) more than once during their migration;

  • While abuses are experienced along all routes and in all countries considered in this study, incidents seem to cluster in certain locations, especially along national borders or in areas that constitute a geographical frontier (such as deserts). The social and economic isolation of borderlands, as well as the limited control from central authorities, might make abusers prone to prey on irregular migrants crossing those areas;

  • Law enforcement officials are among the main perpetrators of human rights abuses towards migrants, according to the data collected along all routes. Government forces are reportedly responsible of sexual and physical abuses, kidnappings, disappearances and migrants’ deaths. Some forces not directly involved with the abuses can also be bribed to turn a blind eye to smugglers’ actions. Local police forces seem to be involved in the most illegal behavior, followed by border guards and immigration officials;

  • While both male and female migrants suffer a wide range of abuses en route, a high number of women and girls on the move seem to go missing along their journey. The disappearance of female migrants has already been highlighted in a previous research1 , yet the scale and scope of this phenomenon remains unknown;

  • Qualitative statements collected among migrants travelling between Ethiopia and Sudan point to the possible existence of illegal cross-border operations which connect migrant smuggling with the trafficking of narcotics and weapons. According to migrants’ testimonies, some police officers also take part in such activities.
    No verifiable evidence exists on such trends, and more research is due to confirm it, yet if true, this discovery would represent a revealing new finding in the study of smuggling in the Horn of Africa region.

  • The flows of people leaving their countries of origin continue to be mixed, as most migrants are pushed to leave by a combination of protection and economic factors, often influencing each other. The lack of regular migration options forces migrants to undertake unsafe journeys which leave them vulnerable to harsh living conditions and multiple abuses, further blurring any potential distinction between economic migrants and people in need of international protection.