The Eastern Route, which runs from the Horn of Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, in particular to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), has long been the most relevant migratory corridor in terms of volume and characteristics in the East and Horn of Africa (EHoA) region. Mobility along this route is mixed in nature, with different categories of people on the move such as refugees and economic migrants, and is not without signicant hardships and challenges.
Irregular migration to the Arabian Peninsula is predominantly male and skewed towards younger age groups, while regular migration channels are largely used by women. While predominantly economic, migration along the Eastern Route is fuelled more specifically by unemployment, intermittent or insufficient wages, land-related factors such as climatic shocks and land depletion resulting in economic vulnerability in agrarian communities. In contrast to the oftentimes dire conditions the migrants report at home, they have high salary expectations in the KSA and the success stories migrants witness amongst returnees in their communities spark migration aspirations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted migration trends across the EHoA. At the beginning of the outbreak, when restrictions were the most severe, a switch in routes was observed. In fact, with Djibouti’s border closures being the most effective, many migrants tried to cross through Somalia instead. Soon enough, pockets of stranded migrants were reported in different parts of the Horn, unable to proceed or return to their place or origin. This resulted in a widespread xenophobic and discriminatory narrative, limited or curtailed access to coping strategies and access to basic services along the journey, as well as episodes of detentions and deportations. By the end of September, it is estimated that at least 3,000 migrants were stranded across the region, with further 14,500 EHoA migrants in Yemen, and another 20,000 in need of assistance in the KSA. Information on EHoA migrant caseloads in critical situations was also received from other countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Middle East, though precise figures are still difficult to obtain.
In the EHoA region, IOM’s Missing Migrants Project recorded a total of 52 migrant deaths and disappearances in 2020, all involving migrants returning from the Arabian Peninsula to the Horn of Africa. All the recorded deaths happened in Djibouti except one, which occurred in Somalia. The majority of the deaths (40) were attributed to drowning in three separate incidents where the migrants were forcefully abandoned at sea by their smugglers near the Gueherere coast in Djibouti. The other incidents occurred in the Djiboutian desert in the Obock region, amongst migrants returning from Yemen, and were attributed to dehydration. The following sections highlight the complexity of the movement trends across one of the most trafficked and dangerous maritime corridors in the globe