Analysis of the context, crisis and needs
The Horn of Africa and Yemen is a region of origin, transit and destination for hundreds of thousands of migrants, the majority of whom travel in an irregular manner. They often rely on smugglers to facilitate movement along the Eastern Route (originating from Ethiopia and Somalia and transiting through Somalia, Djibouti and Yemen) with the intention of crossing the Gulf of Aden towards the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to seek better livelihood opportunities. Movement restrictions imposed as part of COVID-19 containment measures were eased in 2021, but widespread economic challenges, scarcity of regular migration opportunities, protracted conflict and cyclical natural hazards persisted. They were the main drivers of irregular migration, with 16,080, 60,961 and 23,182 migrants arriving in Yemen, Djibouti and Somalia respectively in 2021. Over 100 deaths and several disappearances were also reported in 2021. Throughout their journey, migrants face extreme weather conditions and harsh terrain, and they are exposed to protection risks and human rights violations, including but not limited to physical assault, xenophobic and discriminatory attacks and attitudes, human trafficking, abduction, forced labour, various forms of exploitation, arbitrary arrest and detention, various forms of gender-based violence (GBV), and the risk of death while crossing the Bab-el-Mandeb strait to the Gulf of Aden. As they pass through Yemen, migrants are also exposed to the effects of the ongoing armed conflict.
The deteriorating situation in transit and destination countries has resulted in limited access to life-saving assistance and protection interventions, such as shelter, medical care, water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH), and food and non-food items (NFIs), and limited support from local communities. This leaves migrants with the difficult choice to either continue with their journey or return home, further exacerbating their vulnerability.
The large-scale return of Ethiopian migrants from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia further exacerbates the situation of migrants who often arrive in a vulnerable state. As of October 2021, 75,300 returnees were registered, including 675 unaccompanied and separated children (UASC). Between August and September, 80 per cent of the returnees were females, many travelling with infants and young children, increasing the need to provide life-saving assistance and specialized protection interventions to returnees. In addition, the situation of returnees to Ethiopia is compounded by the ongoing conflict in some areas of return, particularly in Tigray and parts of Amhara and Afar regions, where 37 per cent of all returnees in 2021 came from. The volatile security situation in these conflict-affected areas has compromised capacities for safe return and augmented humanitarian and protection needs, risks and vulnerabilities in areas where migrants have temporarily found refuge.
Projected situation in 2022 and beyond
With the heightened vulnerability of migrants in transit and destination countries, migrant flows are anticipated to reach pre-COVID-19 levels, with 759,748 people projected to be in dire need of life-saving assistance and protection interventions. This projected figure includes 395,345 migrants and 364,403 host/returnee-community members. The deteriorating economic situation, new and protracted conflicts and cyclical natural hazards will continue to be the main drivers of irregular migration, with a projected figure of 91,436 migrants leaving countries of origin to seek better livelihood opportunities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Since the number of Ethiopian migrants stranded in transit and destination countries during the pandemic has increased, so will the number of Ethiopians returning from Saudi Arabia, with a projected figure of 7,160 returnees per month.
The ongoing conflict in northern Ethiopia, which is expected to continue into 2022, will result in a deteriorated protection environment for civilians currently in the three states affected by the crisis, and at the same time hinder the sustainable reintegration of returnees, providing an impetus for irregular migration and re-migration. Additionally, access to Djibouti through the Afar Region will be more difficult, with a higher risk of migrants being caught up in active fighting. As such, migrants will have to pay more money to smugglers to use longer routes. Migrants from conflict-affected areas are at high risk of becoming stranded and vulnerable without access to safety networks and basic needs and services. A wide range of assistance and specialized protection interventions, including but not limited to family tracing and reunification (FTR) and mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), will become more critical if the conflict continues and migrants’ return home is delayed.
Response priorities in 2022
In 2022, MRP partners will prioritize the provision of life-saving assistance, including food and NFIs, WASH services and specialized protection interventions, such as MHPSS, primary health care, multipurpose cash assistance, FTR for UASC, and legal support for 494,758 migrants and members of the host communities in targeted countries along the migration route. MRP partners will also foster an environment of cooperation and agreements between Governments and among partners, and strengthen Government and non-governmental institutional capacities in reinforcing migrants’ access to protection interventions in line with established standards.
Furthermore, the response will support the development of policies and laws to improve the protection of migrants’ rights, while strengthening community-based protection structures to support return and long-term reintegration and strengthen referral mechanisms between locations along the route. The assistance will be provided to migrants in vulnerable situations, such as UASC, GBV survivors and victims of trafficking, at response points set/established/rehabilitated along the route and to ensure a continuity of services along the route.
Engaging host communities will be key to the response in 2022. This will be done by implementing community-based reintegration projects, community conversations and support programmes; improving access to livelihood opportunities; establishing hotlines for the national referral mechanisms; and providing alternatives for migration and safety nets. As a result, MRP partners will contribute to addressing the root causes of migration, targeting hotspots of migration and areas of return and helping to build synergies between the humanitarian and development activities. The collection, analysis and sharing of migration data on mobility patterns, root causes, routes, migrant numbers, the protection-related needs, risks and vulnerabilities of migrants as well as partnership-building will continue to be enhanced to ensure informed, coordinated and comprehensive assistance and protection interventions to migrants and host communities along the Eastern Route.