Buildings in Yemen

Migration Between the Horn of Africa and Yemen: A Study of Puntland, Djibouti and Yemen

Rod Waddington Yemen

This report on migration between the Horn of Africa and Yemen was produced by the Research and Evidence Facility (REF) at the request of the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF). The project involved primary and secondary data collection in Puntland, Djibouti and Yemen between January and June 2017. The objective of the research is to better understand what is driving the growth in migration from the Horn of Africa to Yemen, and the extent to which smuggling and trafficking networks are involved in facilitating these movements. It also explores the impact of these movements on the lives of migrants, the local communities and wider society. Finally, it examines the existing policy and programme responses to this migration in order to identify potential gaps and opportunities for future policy and programming.

The year on year increase in migration between the Horn of Africa and Yemen has slowed in the past twelve months. Migration between the Horn of Africa and Yemen has been taking place for many years and involves a range of migrants, including so-called economic migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, victims of trafficking and unaccompanied migrant children from Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen and, to a lesser extent, from other countries in the region. In this sense, this migration can be described as mixed, both in terms of who is migrating, but also in terms of their motivations and drivers. Journeys between the Horn of Africa and Yemen have traditionally been made across two sea routes whose relative popularity has ebbed and flowed over time: the Red Sea via Djibouti and the Arabian Sea via Puntland. UNHCR and partners estimate that over 800,000 people have made the crossing to Yemen between January 2006 and December 2016, and data collected over the last ten years shows an upward trajectory in migration along this route, with record numbers arriving in 2016. More recently, however, there is a common perception that the number of Ethiopians migrating to Yemen in the last year has reduced; a claim which is broadly substantiated by available data. Travelling in the opposite direction, UNHCR estimates that just under 96,000 people have left Yemen for the Horn of Africa since the start of the conflict in 2015, with most of these movements occurring during the first five months of fighting in Yemen.

The demographics and routes taken show significant changes. Young men primarily from Ethiopia, but also Somalia, represent the majority of those making the crossing to Yemen. However, a sizeable and growing number of female migrants are also on the move, estimated to be between 20-30%, and attracted by the considerable demand for domestic workers in the Gulf states. While some migrants stay in Yemen, the majority are hoping to make it to Saudi Arabia. A growing minority of mainly Somali migrants are choosing to migrate to Europe via Yemen. This research tracked the emergence of a new route from the Horn of Africa to Yemen, back through Sudan and onward to Egypt and Libya. For those who successfully reach Europe, this amounts to three dangerous sea crossings in their attempts to reach their destination. Movements in the opposite direction, towards the Horn of Africa, are mainly comprised of Yemeni and Somali migrants, for the most part towards Djibouti and Somalia. Among this group, the male-female and adult-child balance is more evenly split, and arrivals from Yemen were 52% male and 48% female, with 46% under 18 years (UNHCR, 2016). Data on child migrants is limited, though key informants describe growing numbers of children travelling along these routes, and indicate that unaccompanied migrant children could make up as much as 20-30% of migrant flows towards Yemen.

As in many contexts, the drivers of migration and displacement are multiple, overlapping and change over time. Socioeconomic, political and security factors were key reasons behind decisions to migrate, although state policy, cultures of migration, family and social networks, and the growth in the smuggling industry also play a role. Many of these drivers are linked to a general deterioration of conditions, associated with conflict in Yemen, political unrest in Ethiopia, and drought in the region. Although, it is worth noting that, while these developments significantly impact movement choices and patterns, those affected by conflict, insecurity and drought may be more likely to migrate internally, or to neighbouring countries than to attempt sea crossings to and from Yemen, and beyond. This is likely related to the fact that these groups lack the ability to finance sea crossings or long-distance movements.

Despite the difficulties of the journey, most people do not regret leaving. Movements between the Horn of Africa and Yemen are dangerous, with many living in deplorable conditions and experiencing extreme suffering and abuse. However, in spite of this, migrants demonstrate significant resilience and determination to move, and most do not regret their decision to migrate; calling into question the effectiveness of campaigns that seek to deter movements by raising awareness of the risks, dangers and difficulties. Furthermore, migrants and local communities suffer many of the same hardships.

Communities in transit and destination areas carry much of the cost of supporting migrants and refugees. This report is also concerned with migration’s impact on local communities and wider society. Poverty, unemployment, vulnerability and drought affect both groups, and the influx of large numbers of migrants can put further pressure on already overstretched social services, natural resources and livelihoods. In general, however, community respondents voice mixed feelings towards migrants and recognised both the challenges and opportunities associated with migration.

A range of programme and policy gaps and opportunities are identified. A range of governmental, non-governmental and civil society organisations are involved in responses to migration. However, given the sheer scope and scale of migration, efforts have generally been undermined by poor coordination, limited funding and capacity, inconsistencies in policy and practice, and difficulties of accessing remote and sometimes dangerous migration locations. In this context, five main gaps and opportunities for programme and policy emerged from stakeholder consultations: (i) greater protection and assistance to all migrants, regardless of their status; (ii) adoption of a more holistic approach to smuggling and trafficking; (iii) expansion of regular opportunities for regular migration; (iv) better support to local communities affected by migration; and (v) improvements in data collection and monitoring.

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Image source: Rod Waddington

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