Sana'a, Yemen, 11 July 2015 - Trucks loaded with wheat grain, oil and salt are ready to leave for Amran, a hundred kilometers north of Sana'a. Every day, between 5 and 10 trucks leave the UN warehouse in Sana'a to go to Saada, Hajja and Amran. Photo: OCHA/ Charlotte Cans.

Perilous Journeys: Migration between the Horn of Africa and Yemen

Sana'a, Yemen, 11 July 2015 - Trucks loaded with wheat grain, oil and salt are ready to leave for Amran, a hundred kilometers north of Sana'a. Every day, between 5 and 10 trucks leave the UN warehouse in Sana'a to go to Saada, Hajja and Amran. Photo: OCHA/ Charlotte Cans.

This policy brief highlights some of the key policy implications from the findings of a recent study on movement between the Horn of Africa and Yemen undertaken by the Research and Evidence Facility of the EU Trust Fund for Africa. This study set out to explore how and why people continue to move in large numbers between the Horn of Africa to Yemen despite the dangers of the journey and the deteriorating security situation in Yemen. The research was conducted across three countries with field work in Puntland (Bossaso, Qardo and Garowe), Djibouti (Djibouti town and Obock) and Yemen (Sana’a, Aden, and Al Hodeidah) between January and June 2017. Through interviews with migrants, government officials, aid agencies, civil society and individuals involved in smuggling and trafficking, it examined the factors driving people’s movement, their experiences of the journey, the wide range of agents involved in facilitating irregular migration and the impacts of migration on the wider community in each setting. This policy brief presents findings from the analysis of movements from the Horn of Africa to Yemen. It is important to note that the research also explored movements in the reverse direction, from Yemen to the Horn.

The key findings of the research:

  1. Over the last year there has been a reduction in the number of migrants from the Horn crossing the Arabian and Red Sea towards Yemen. In particular, there has been a fall in the number of Ethiopians (the largest national group using these routes) making the journey; the State of Emergency in Ethiopia does not appear to have resulted in larger flows of people.
  2. Most of those using these routes (and in particular Ethiopians) aim to reach Saudi Arabia to work.
  3. A small but growing number of young Somalis are crossing to Yemen as the first part of a new route to Europe (see map below). They cross the Gulf of Aden or the Djibouti Strait, then move north over land through Yemen, then make another boat journey across the Red Sea to Sudan, and then over land through Egypt or Libya towards the Mediterranean. This new route is more risky than ever, as it involves three dangerous sea crossings (back and forth across the Red Sea and from Libya across the Mediterranean) and many migrants end
  4. up in the hands of trafficking groups. There has been little research on the later sections of this route as migrants move on from Yemen.
  5. There are a growing number of women using the Red Sea route: women make up 20-30% of the migrants. (In addition, many women also travel to Gulf Countries by air, their journeys facilitated by brokers or agents.) Most migrate with the aim of finding employment as domestic workers in the Gulf.
  6. On average, Ethiopian migrants using these routes are poorer and have less education than the Somalis. As a result, Ethiopians are more likely to travel on foot and struggle to cover the basic costs of their journey (such as food, accommodation, or medical care) leaving them much more exposed to exploitation.
  7. Migration is driven primarily by the search for better employment and livelihoods reflecting the chronic poor economic conditions. A few migrants referred to the drought and potential famine in the region as a factor prompting their departure. Many Oromo respondents cited political upheaval in Ethiopia as a reason to leave, but the increased restrictions on movement appear to have reduced the flow of migrants.
  8. While the collapse of order in Yemen makes it much more insecure for migrants, it also opens up a space where they can move without formal controls.
  9. Many of those on the move have previous experience of migration or have close connections with previous migrants. They are aware of the routes, the agents to use and the dangers involved.
  10. Migrants distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ smugglers and share details of them within migrant networks.
  11. Somali youths, both male and female, are leaving in a ‘Travel Now, Pay Later’ arrangement, without the consent of their parents and with little or no money, anticipating that their parents will pay fees/ransoms when they are demanded by smugglers or traffickers along the way. Parents are very unhappy about their exodus of the youth to Europe.
  12. Despite enormous and varied challenges, most migrants do not regret their decision to leave their country. They are aware of, but are not dissuaded by, the risks and dangers of migration.
  13. There has been an expansion of smuggling activities especially over land routes. Where migrants used to first come in contact with smugglers at the ports, as controls on irregular movement have been strengthened, migrants are now more likely to use smugglers to cross the border from Ethiopia and move across Somalia.
  14. There is widespread evidence that smuggling activities and networks are facilitated by state collusion.
  15. Host communities are ambivalent in their feelings towards migrants. For the most part, their interactions were rather very limited as the migrants are in transit and often under the control of smugglers. Local communities did not associate migrants with insecurity.
  16. Official mechanisms of assistance, protection and support provided by states, UN agencies and NGOs are extremely limited due to a lack of funding, capacity, political interest, challenges of security and access, and apprehension at the scope and scale of the issue.

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Image source: OCHA/ Charlotte Cans.

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