Migration in the Horn of Africa, 2016: More of the Same, or Reprieve from the Perfect Storm?

In 2015, significant migrant and refugee movements in the Horn of Africa placed strain on governments and humanitarian actors in the region.  For the first time, complex flows of displaced individuals arrived in Djibouti, Somalia, and Ethiopia from Yemen.

Entrenched conflict and multiple failed peace accords framed the situation in Yemen and South Sudan. Environmental factors placed 10 million in need of emergency assistance in Ethiopia due to the worst drought in decades.

Djibouti’s resources are stretched thin due to the large number of migrants transiting to Yemen, while others still arrive by boat from Yemen. 

Ethiopia continues to generate large numbers of migrants travelling to Yemen, Europe, and South Africa. Insecurity, terrorism, a fragmented political process, and economic aspirations abroad, also motivate internal and cross-border human migration from Somalia.

So far migrant arrivals in Europe and deaths in the Mediterranean in 2016 don’t paint a better picture either. Forced migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq join tens of thousands of other Europe-bound migrants and refugees from West Africa and the Horn of Africa in the first four months of 2016.

The tactics smugglers and traffickers employ remain brazen, and over 1,200 lives have been lost at sea off the shores of Europe already in 2016 (as of 20/04).

The question we should be asking is can political initiatives, such as regional dialogues, and emergency assistance ensure sufficient humanitarian space for protection of migrants and refugees?

Will initiatives such as the Khartoum Process and commitments under the European Union Trust Fund – that finally gained traction in 2014 and 2015 – prove successful in addressing root causes, providing protection and humanitarian assistance, while establishing effective policy and practice on migration? 

Past experience has shown the positive outcomes of taking a holistic approach by harnessing political will to support multi-lateral dialogues to devise regional and national strategies for curbing irregular migration.

This can be done through awareness-raising, sustainable voluntary return, and providing reasonable alternatives to the cultural and economic dynamics underpinning the large scale mixed migration movements from the Horn of Africa. Governments in countries of origin, transit, and arrival need the skills, material, and technology to minimize the negative consequences of irregular migration. Through this, the significant contributions that migrants and refugees bring will be realized.

High level commitment to these initiatives represent the best way forward in reducing migrant victimization and loss of life, while achieving a more stable migration landscape in the Horn of Africa in 2016.