Analysis of the context, crisis and needs
Migration from the Horn of Africa along the Eastern Route to Yemen and beyond remains the world’s busiest maritime route. In recent years, thousands of migrants, travelling mainly from Ethiopia and Somalia through smuggling networks, have transited through Yemen each year, with some travelling via Djibouti to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. An estimated 160,000 migrants arrived in Yemen in 2018 and over 138,000 arrived in 2019. The migrants are mostly Ethiopian (93 per cent) and Somali (7 per cent). They are mostly young men or boys with low levels of education, migrating due to destitution, disparities and/or conflict in their areas of origin, and often seeking economic opportunities.
In 2020, COVID-19 brought new challenges and risks for migrants travelling the Eastern Route. The pandemic prompted Governments in the Horn of Africa and the Gulf to impose stringent border closures, increase movement restrictions and tighten security along known migratory routes. This made the already dangerous and difficult journey even more perilous. The movement restrictions impacted migrant flows, with just 33,122 new arrivals recorded in Yemen between 1 January and 30 September 2020, representing a decrease of 69 per cent compared to the same period in 2019.
Increased movement restrictions within countries and the forced transfers of migrants have also resulted in migrants becoming stranded along the route. They have no access to essential services, they are exposed to smugglers, abuse and exploitation, and they face increased risks of contracting COVID-19 as well as other threats to their health and well-being. As of October 2020, 14,500 migrants were stranded in Yemen, 1,200 in Djibouti and over 900 in Somalia. At the same time, continued returns from Yemen and Saudi Arabia have been observed, with over 82,000 recorded, including spontaneous returns (47,000) and forced returns (35,000) to Ethiopia between January and October 2020. However, total return figures are estimated to be much higher.
Throughout their journey, migrants face extreme protection risks, including violence, trafficking, abduction, forced labour, exploitation, detention and GBV. They risk death while crossing the Bab-el-Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden, and exposure to conflict as they pass through Yemen. In 2020, at least 51 migrants died on the Horn of Africa route. The most recent deaths were in October 2020: 20 migrants were found dead, with others missing, off the coast of Djibouti while crossing the strait. In 2019, at least 123 migrants were killed or went missing along the route, with an estimated 60 migrants killed in air strikes in Sa’ada, Yemen. Numbers of deaths are lower in 2020 due to reduced migration along the route, but an average of 159 people have died annually on the route since 2014, with the real number estimated to be higher. While these risks affect all migrants taking on this dangerous journey, women and girls are at heightened risk of GBV, and unaccompanied children are at greatest risk of harm.
Projected situation in 2021 and beyond
Needs in 2021 are expected to be exacerbated due to the increased number of migrants stranded across the Eastern Route due to COVID-19-related movement restrictions and border closures. More so, the reopening of borders, and the negative impact of COVID-19 on income and livelihoods in countries of origin, will mean that the number of persons opting to migrate in search of better opportunities will be on par with or more than the numbers in 2019. The needs of host communities in areas of return or where migrants are transiting through, stranded or settled are expected to increase as more people compete for reduced resources and access to services. As borders reopen and restrictions are slowly lifted, migrants stranded in Djibouti, Somalia or Yemen are expected to resume their journeys or attempt return to their countries of origin due to lack of resources and difficulties faced while stranded. It is anticipated that those who decided to migrate but were unable to due to the pandemic will start their journeys in 2021, particularly as COVID-19 will have exacerbated poverty and unemployment in areas of origin, contributing towards the decision to migrate despite increasing difficulties along the route.
Migrant flows in 2021 are expected to be similar to 2019, with 1.7 million people projected to be impacted and 763,184 people projected to be in need of humanitarian assistance (including 352,610 migrants and 410,574 host/returnee community members). This includes transiting migrants, stranded migrants, migrants at destination, returnees, host communities (at areas of origin and in areas where migrants are transiting, stranded, at destination), as well as families of those who have migrated. Some 86 per cent of all migrants transiting are expected to be in need, whereas 100 per cent of stranded migrants will be in need due to their situation.
Response priorities in 2021
The 2021 Migrant Response Plan (MRP) targets 563,128 persons out of a total of 763,184 PiN (including 251,329 migrants and 311,799 host/returnee community members). Note that overlaps with HRPs are avoided by adjusting people in need, people targeted and requirements.
This will require partners to ensure that assistance to migrants is balanced with that of host communities. Under the MRP partners will:
Provide life-saving assistance to vulnerable migrants and host communities.
Build evidence, partnerships and coordination to enhance the humanitarian response and migration management throughout the migration route.
Strengthen access to return, sustainable reintegration and community stabilization.
Provide quality, timely and inclusive protection assistance and services to migrants and host communities.
The migrant response will focus on life-saving and basic needs support along the route via mobile teams and the establishment of Migrant Response Points and Child Protection desks, and at waystations. Protection services will be prioritized, including strengthening child protection services, referral mechanisms and establishing additional standard operation procedures. Assistance to vulnerable host communities will be provided through similar response modalities.
Partners will also support the capacity-building of Governments to improve assistance to migrants, and in the development of policies and laws to improve migrants’ rights and migration management. Community-based resilience and economic empowerment activities targeting hotspots of migration and areas of return will be key to addressing some of the root causes of migration and help to build synergies between humanitarian and development activities. A regional approach will focus on strengthening the evidence base at the same time as fostering an environment of cooperation and agreement between Governments and among partners, with the objective of upholding international standards and norms to protect and assist migrants. This approach will go hand in hand with the in-country responses.