Migration data in Eastern Africa
Eastern Africa has historically been part of global migration and trade networks and continues to play an important role in both. The geographic sub-region1spans a total of 18 countries, ranging from Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda in the west to Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia in the east to Malawi, Mozambique, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe in the south and the island nations of Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles2, each with its unique migration pattern and profile.
Home to an estimated population of 418 million, the sub-region hosted 7.9 million international migrants at mid-year 2019 (UN DESA, 2019) and 3.6 million refugees and asylum seekers in 2018 (UNHCR, 2019). IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) data suggest that in 2018, 150,000 – 200,000 migrants left the East and Horn of Africa (EHoA)3 region traveling eastwards towards the Arab Peninsula and northwards towards northern Africa and Europe.4 The region is characterized by developmental challenges and shifting demographics as populations grow and migrate towards urban centres, other parts of the region or beyond. Migration drivers include poverty, conflict and environmental events such as droughts and floods. Since mid-2018, the region has experienced major, positive geopolitical shifts following the signing of a peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia, triggering a series of initiatives aimed at boosting the stability of the region as a whole.
- Uganda (1.7 million), Ethiopia (1.3 million) and Kenya (1 million) were estimated to be the three countries hosting the highest number of international migrants in the region at mid-year 2019 (UN DESA, 2019).
- Reasons such as a lack of economic opportunity and the expectation to find better livelihood opportunities elsewhere are two of the major migration drivers in the region (IOM, 2019).
- Political tension, conflict and natural disasters are at the root of most of the region’s large refugee and displaced populations.
- Around half of the migratory movements documented during 2018 in the East and Horn of Africa were towards or within the region. Another 30% were eastwards towards the Arab Peninsula, in particular to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (ibid.).
- By the end of 2018, Uganda and Ethiopia had the highest caseloads of refugees and asylum-seekers in the sub-region (UNHCR, 2019).
- In March 2017, the Government of Saudi Arabia launched a campaign entitled ‘A Nation without Violations’, granting all irregular migrants a 90-day amnesty to leave the country without facing penalties. After multiple extensions, the amnesty ended in November 2017. IOM estimates that over 230,000 individuals were returned to Ethiopia between May 2017 and December 2018 (IOM, 2019).
- Migrant arrivals from the region to Italy via the Mediterranean have decreased significantly in recent years, with 75% fewer EHoA migrants arriving by sea in Italy in 2018 compared to 2017 (ibid.).
- In July 2018, the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a peace declaration, thereby paving the way for reconciliatory talks and ending two decades of hostility. In the months following the reopening of the border, screening centres near the border in Ethiopia registered a large number of Eritrean arrivals (ECHO, 2018).
Past and present migration trends
Situated on the Indian Ocean, the Horn is the continent’s gateway to Asia, harbouring deep historical ties to the Middle East, China and India that continue to manifest themselves in investment and trade deals today. Migration to and from the region has historically occurred along similar routes, particularly to and from the Middle East and India. During the colonial era, the region was colonized by the UK, Italy, Belgium and Germany; a small number of nationals of these countries still live in their respective former colonies.
- Earliest evidence of Arab migrants in Eastern Africa dates back to 830 AD (Lodhi, 1994).
- By 1300 AD, Islam was a common religion along the East African coastline, with Arabic being the commercial language spoken in many coastal areas (ibid.).
- Swahili culture was well established along the East African coastal belt through political and trading networks with the northern and eastern areas of the Indian Ocean by the 1500’s (ibid.).
- Well over a million East Africans were sold by slave traders to Middle Eastern countries, Arab kingdoms, Persia and countries further East (Campbell, 2008).
- Even though Asians have lived on the east coast of Africa for around 2,000 – 3,000 years, the majority of Asians (primarily from India and Pakistan) arrived in Eastern Africa as indentured servants to the British in the nineteenth century (Forster et al., 2000). Many Asians decided to migrate to Eastern Africa to escape widespread poverty and famine in India and for employment opportunities such as building the Ugandan railway. The South Asian population in British East African territories thus grew from around 6,000 in 1887 to around 366,000 by the end of the British colonial rule (Dickinson, 2012). A large number of Indian diaspora members still reside in Eastern Africa, particularly in Mauritius, Kenya, Mozambique, the United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda, Madagascar, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Seychelles and Malawi.
- In the wake of growing nationalism following political independence, Asians in Eastern Africa were gradually pushed out of both rural and urban areas. In Kenya and Tanzania, the pushback was less severe in order to avoid economic disruption as Asians continued to occupy a significant proportion of key technical, managerial, administrative and other professional jobs. In Uganda, following a military coup, Idi Amin capitalized on racialized antipathy towards Ugandan Asians and announced the expulsion of all Asians from Uganda in August 1972. East African Asian refugees migrated across the world, in particular to the United Kingdom. By 1973, around 103,588 Asians had arrived in the UK fleeing political and economic persecution in Britain’s East African colonies (Mattausch, 1998).
1990s – 2018
Today, mixed migration5 and labour migration are key features of the migration landscape in Eastern Africa. In the region as well as in Africa, Mauritius had the highest labour force participation rates of international migrants compared to the general population in 2011 (African Union Commission, 2017). South Sudan and Somalia, two of the top five countries of origin of refugees in 2018 are in this region (UNHCR, 2019). There are currently five forced displacement situations in the region, each with its own unique characteristics and spill-over effects into neighbouring countries.
- Burundi: Political tensions and election-related violence since 2015 have forced around 383,000 Burundians to find refuge in neighbouring countries and by September 2018, more than 151,500 people were displaced internally (OCHA, 2018; IOM, 2018). However, internal displacement decreased by around 20 per cent from January 2018 to December 2018 (IOM, 2019). Despite ongoing political strife, 52,260 refugees have voluntarily repatriated to Burundi from the United Republic of Tanzania since a tripartite agreement was signed in September 2017 (UNHCR, 2018).
- Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)6: Not within the region itself, DRC has, after years of inter-communal violence, a deteriorating security situation and severe food insecurity become a major country of origin of refugees living in EHoA countries. By 30 June 2019, UNHCR had registered 861,077 Congolese refugees, a majority of whom live in Eastern Africa, particularly in Uganda (353,379), the United Republic of Tanzania (79,463), Rwanda (76,579), Burundi (77,385) and Zambia (43,470) (UNCHR, 2019).
- Ethiopia: Ethnic tensions, political persecution and environmental disasters such as drought and soil degradation have forced millions to flee their homes in recent years. The latest bout of inter-communal violence occurred in Ethiopia’s Gedeo (Southern Nations Nationalities and People - SNNPR Region) and West Guji Zones (Oromia region), displacing nearly 960,000 from April to July 2018 (IOM, 2018). By February 2019, IOM’s DTM had further recorded over 2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) - 1,663,396 due to conflict and 508,723 due to climate-related events - within Ethiopia (IOM,2019).
- Somalia: Political insecurity and environmental factors including drought and famine continue to force Somalis to leave their homes. The Protection Return and Monitoring Network (PRMN) and IOM estimated that 2.6 million Somalis were internally displaced due to conflict and climate-related events as of May 2018 (IOM, 2018)7. UNHCR reported that by September 2018, 822,343 Somalis had sought refuge in neighbouring countries including Ethiopia (257,283), Kenya (256,300), Yemen (257,107), Uganda (37,193) and Djibouti (12,345) (UNHCR, 2018). As of 30 June 2019, Somalia also hosted 34,558 refugees and asylum-seekers, mostly from Ethiopia and Yemen (UNHCR, 2019).
- South Sudan: Migration within and from South Sudan is driven by civil war and critical food insecurity. By the end of 2018, an estimated 1.87 million people were internally displaced within the country due to conflict and 2.3 million South Sudanese refugees were living in other countries, mostly in Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo (IDMC, 2019; UNHCR, 2019).
The movement of IDPs, refugees and other migrants within and from the region can be characterized along four main routes:
- Horn of Africa Route - captures movements towards and within the Horn of Africa8. This route is popular among Somalis and Ethiopians who accounted for 57 per cent and 29 per cent respectively of migrants monitored on this route in 2018 (IOM, 2019)9.
- Eastern Route - used by migrants moving between countries in the EHoA region and towards countries on the Arabian Peninsula, particularly Saudi Arabia. In 2018, around 38% of all migrant observations in the region (315,172 observations) were of migrants traveling towards the Gulf countries (ibid.). Despite the ongoing conflict in Yemen, migrant flows towards Saudi Arabia through war-torn Yemen have not significantly decreased (ibid.).
- Southern Route - runs from the EHoA region to South Africa. Compared to other migrant flows in the region, this route remains largely understudied with few current and comprehensive data available. The latest research estimates that between 14,750 - 16,850 migrants travel along this route annually (RMMS, 2017). DTM, which tracked 47,545 movements in 2018, mostly captures the circular migration between Somalia and Kenya, and only 8 per cent of these migrants were headed towards South Africa (IOM, 2019).
- Northern Route - refers to movements from the EHoA region to the North of Africa, Europe and North America. EHoA arrivals in Italy via the Mediterranean have decreased in recent years, with 65% fewer EHoA migrants arriving in Italy in 2018 (3,764 individuals) compared to 2017 (10,710 individuals) (ibid.)10.
The following data sources provide both regional and national-level information on migration patterns and migration-related challenges in the Eastern Africa sub-region.
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) - the Population Division regularly publishes data on the international migrant stock by country, the latest being for mid-year 2019. The published estimates draw on official national statistics on the foreign population residing in each country. Available data are:
- Migrant stock by sex and country; total population by area, region and country; migrant stock as a percentage of total population; annual rate of change of migrant stock by area, region and country
- Estimated refugee and asylum seeker stock by area, region and country
- Total migrant stock by destination and origin; total migrant stock by sex, destination and origin.
International Organization for Migration (IOM) - the Regional Office for the East and Horn of Africa’s Regional Data Hub publishes regular mixed migration updates of data collected through IOM’s various data collection modules in the region. These include the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), registration data collected at IOM's Migration Response Centres as well as profiles of other populations on the move (IOM’s latest regional products can be found here). The DTM is designed to track and monitor displacement and migration flows by collecting information on the volume and basic characteristics of populations transiting through established Flow Monitoring Points (FMPs). Regional DTM updates can also be found on the global DTM website.
The Regional Migration Data Hub for Southern Africa (RMDHub), established by IOM in partnership with SADC Member States and other key stakeholders, serves to generate information on migration in Southern Africa through data collection, collation and analysis. This includes statistics gathered through Flow Monitoring Surveys. Data published by IOM on SADC Member States is published on this portal, and it is the result of the engagement of the IOM Regional Office from Southern Africa with key stakeholders in SADC Member States.
UNHCR’s Population Statistics Portal - provides statistics on refugees and asylum seekers for the region. This interactive dashboard allows users to filter by year, country of asylum, country of origin and type of persons of concern (including refugees, asylum-seekers, returned refugees, internally displaced persons, returned IDPs and stateless persons). Demographic breakdowns (age and sex) by year and country of asylum can also be viewed.
UN OCHA Regional Office for Southern and Eastern Africa (OCHA ROSEA) - publishes periodic humanitarian outlooks and snapshots offering key humanitarian indicators, including displacement trends and numbers, for Horn of Africa and Great Lakes countries. The organization provides context to observed migration patterns and dynamics that can help identify existing and potential drivers of migration.
Research and Evidence Facility (REF) of the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa - conducted by a consortium of researchers from SOAS at the University of London, the University of Oxford and Sahan Research, REF produces policy-relevant knowledge and evidence to foster a better understanding of regional migration dynamics, cross-border economies, drivers of displacement and governmental migration management systems and capacities in the region. REF publishes regular research and working papers on migration-related topics in the region.
United Nations University (UNU-MERIT) - Migration and Development are among UNU-MERIT’s key focus themes. They have published a series of research papers related to migration in the region, most recently a comprehensive Study on Migration Routes in the East and Horn of Africa and seven migration profiles for the region: Djibouti; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Kenya; Somalia; South Sudan and Uganda. The study provides an overview of regional migration trends, drivers of displacement by displacement type, intra-regional policy responses to migration and relevant migration-related policies at the national level by country.
Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) - provides data on internal displacement crises across the world. Its country profiles offer data on IDP stock and flow numbers, disaggregated by drivers of displacement. The profiles also provide an overview of conflict and disaster events that triggered migration, an analysis of the drivers of internal displacement and a look at country-specific displacement patterns. Eastern African country profiles can be found at the following links: Burundi, Comoros, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, the United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
REACH Initiative - a humanitarian information management organization currently operating in Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda. REACH conducts periodic, humanitarian needs assessments and publishes reports that include updates on population movements, displacement and the humanitarian context.
Samuel Hall - a think tank based in Nairobi conducting research on migration and displacement in several regions including East Africa.
Mixed Migration Centre - formerly known as the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS), provides largely qualitative data on irregular migration trends in the East and Horn of Africa on a regular basis. In addition to monthly summaries by country, the centre publishes thematic reports.
Institute for Security Studies - publishes occasional reports related to migration in the East and Horn of Africa region with a focus on security studies.
Data strengths and limitations
Although the accessibility and availability of migration data on stocks have improved over the years, data on flows and internal migration continue to be limited in the region (as elsewhere).
Due to differences in definitions of migrants and the timing of national censuses, estimates on migrant stocks in countries are based on extrapolation and interpolation. For countries in the region with no data, such as Somalia, UN DESA estimates the data by imputation from ‘model’ countries that are geographically close and use similar criteria for counting migrants (UN DESA, 2019).
As listed in the previous section, population movement tracking systems provide rough estimates of forced and mixed migration flows in the region. However, they are often incomplete due to insufficient capacity, inability/unwillingness of individuals to provide information, limited access to areas with political instability and political pressures (Sarzin, 2017).
Patchy availability of comparable micro- and macro-level data also limits studies on the effects of development on migration and vice-versa.
Regional stakeholders and processes
African Union (AU) – The first iterations of migration-relevant intra-African commitments occurred in 1979 under the AU’s precursor – the Organization of African Unity (OAU) – which called for the preparation of an African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (entry into force, 1986). It was the first Africa-wide human rights instrument which stipulated that every individual should have the right to freedom of movement within the territory of a country and the right to leave and return to his/her own country. In 1991, the AU adopted the African Economic Community (Abuja Treaty), which codified the right to free movement of persons in Africa into a legally binding commitment for Member States (Article 43).
The AU formulated migration frameworks, such as the African Common Position on Migration and Development (ACPMD) and the Migration Policy Framework for Africa (MPFA), both of which were adopted in 2006. The MPFA recognizes that mixed migration is an essential component of the AU’s economic and political landscape and that cross-border movements represent vital livelihood and coping strategies in the face of economic, humanitarian and ecological disasters. In 2018, the AU revised the MPFA and adopted a Plan of Action (2018-2030) in Addis Ababa.
The AU’s vision for Africa, Agenda 2063, includes goals and targets related to the free movement of persons within RECs and Member States and a continent-wide visa waiver programme for intra-African travel. Adopted in 2015, the First Ten-year Implementation Plan of the Agenda 2063 included the creation of a Pan-African passport and the free movement of people. The common, biometric African passport was launched by the AU Assembly in 2016 to facilitate the free movement of people within Africa, and in January 2018, the Union adopted the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons in Africa currently ratified by four countries and will enter into force upon deposit of the 15th instrument of ratification (see here for the current list of ratifications). If implementation challenges are overcome, the Protocol will foster greater intra-Africa trade and labour mobility. To date, a number of African states, including Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia, have implemented or declared their intent to implement visa liberalization policies for African visitors.
Other AU policies and instruments related to migration include:
- 1969 Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (1969);
The Protocol on the Amendments to the Constitutive Act, which, inter alia, invites the African Diaspora, an important part of the continent, to participate in the building of the African Union (AU) Plan of Action on Employment Promotion and Poverty Alleviation (2004) - calls on Member States to harmonize their labour and social security frameworks, develop labour inspectorates to ensure that private agencies engaged in international recruitment adhere to national labour standards and provide equal treatment to migrant and national workers;
- Ouagadougou Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings Especially Women and Children (2006) - aimed at developing co-operation, best practices and mechanisms to prevent human trafficking between the European Union and the AU;
- AU Social Policy Framework (2008) - promotes collaboration on social security schemes to ensure access and transfer of social security benefits to migrant workers;
- AU Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention) (2009) - obliges states to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to IDPs within their territory and codify such assistance into their domestic laws and legislation;
- The African Union Model Law for the Implementation of the African Union Convention for the Protection of and Assistance to IPDs in Africa (January 2018)
- AU Minimum Integration Programme (2009) – re-emphasized the priority objective of implementing free movement of persons in the AU as well as the need to foster economic integration;
- Diaspora Summit Declaration (2012);
- Convention on Cross-Border Cooperation (Niamey Convention) (2014) - calls for the promotion of cross-border cooperation at local, regional and sub-regional levels;
- AU Horn of Africa Initiative (2014) - launched as a platform for dialogue and exchange of information on smuggling and trafficking;
- Joint Labour Migration Program (2015) - aimed at enhancing labour migration governance by facilitating the free movement of workers as a means of advancing regional development and integration;
- AU Humanitarian Policy Framework (2015) - provides a framework for protection and assistance in mixed migration;
- Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (March 2018) - provides a framework of movement of business-persons in the context of Trade in Services;
- Statute of the African Institute of Remittances (2018) - has a mandate to improve remittance data, legal and regulatory frameworks and leverage the potential impact of remittances on social and economic development.
- The Pan African Forum on Migration - an annual forum of AU member states and Regional Economic Communities (RECs), provides a platform for an all‐inclusive, open, comprehensive dialogue on migration issues among Member States, RECs, partners and relevant stakeholders with the aim of reaching a common understanding on the critical migration agenda in the continent.
East African Community (EAC) - adopted the Common Market Protocol in 2010, providing for the free movement of goods, capital, services persons and labour and establishing the rights of workers migrating within the community. The protocol also aims at harmonizing the issuance of national IDs, a qualification recognition system, and streamlining labour and social security policies. Although the EAC has fostered some degree of mobility in the region, the full implementation of free movement remains a challenge as movement remains subject to national legislation (IOM, 2018).
Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) - launched the Regional Migration Policy Framework (RMPF) in 2012 under its Migration Program to promote migrant well-being, streamline regional and national migration management in the region and support its Member States’ efforts to address migration-related challenges holistically through recommendations and guidance on policy and legislation. To facilitate the operationalization of the RMPF, IGAD developed the Migration Action Plan 2015-2020 (MAP) comprising 12 strategic priorities, including: improving labour migration management, building and fostering existing national data systems on migration, facilitating the free movement of people in the IGAD region and supporting the cross-border mobility of pastoralist communities and families.
The IGAD Regional Consultative Process on Migration (RCP) has the overall objectives of (1) facilitating dialogue and regional cooperation in migration management amongst IGAD member states by fostering greater understanding and policy coherence in migration, and (2) strengthening regional, institutional and technical capacities to implement the migration policy framework for Africa and other AU/IGAD policies on migration.
National Coordination Mechanisms on Migration (NCMs) – government-led inter-agency coordination platforms tasked with discussing migration issues and facilitating cooperation among relevant stakeholders with migration-related mandates, thereby contributing to better migration management and governance. Kenya, Uganda, and South Sudan currently have active NCMs, while Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan have widened their membership in existing coordination platforms but have not yet established active NCMs.
2 Comoros, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and the United Republic of Tanzania are considered Southern African States as they are among the members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Data in these countries are explored in detail in the SADC regional data overview page.
3 IOM’s regional designation of the East and Horn of Africa (EHoA) covers 10 countries: Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda, and the United Republic of Tanzania.
5 Mixed migration is a complex, relatively new term and thus slightly differently defined by various entities. According to IOM, the principal characteristics of mixed migration flows include the irregular nature of and the multiplicity of factors driving such movements. Mixed flows are defined as, “People travelling as part of mixed movements have varying needs and profiles and may include asylum seekers, refugees, trafficked persons, unaccompanied/separated children, and migrants in an irregular situation.” (IOM, 2019)
6 The Democratic Republic of Congo is also a Member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
7 This figure is based on consultations between the PRMN and DTM specialists, and has been endorsed by the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) and by the Government of Somalia.
8 The Horn of Africa is comprised of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.
9 The Flow Monitoring Registry (FMR) aims at capturing quantitative data about volumes of migrants, nationality, sex and age disaggregated information, origin, destination and observable vulnerabilities. This is done by enumerators deployed at locations of high mobility through key informant interviews. More information is available here.
10 IOM DTM. The information is based on the nationality declared by migrants, as reported by the Italian Ministry of Interior. The Italian authorities provided full disaggregated data by nationality, sex, and age up to April 2018. Since then, data have been provided on top 10 nationalities only. Eritreans are the second national group by number of arrivals.
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