By Akanimo Sampson
Vulnerable migrants who returned from sea are still being taken to the Tajoura detention centre, three months after an airstrike on the facility tragically killed 53 migrants and left over 130 injured. The bombed detention centre remains operational to this day, despite urgent and persistent calls to close Tajoura, especially due to its proximity to a military location.
The news of the detention facility broke as over half of all movements observed in the first six month of 2019 through flow monitoring in the East and Horn of Africa (EHoA) were motivated by economic reasons, and yet over 8.00 million people remain internally displaced.
This is according to a new edition of ‘A Region on the Move’, a report that provides an analysis of the mixed migration movement trends affecting the region. The report is produced by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). It notes that population movements in the region remain extremely dynamic as people moved in and out of situations of vulnerability.
During the first six months of the year, an estimated 8.1 million remained internally displaced and 3.5 million refugees and asylum-seekers were hosted in the region as conflict and climatic events put pressure on the most fragile communities.
While conflict-induced displacement decreased, intercommunal violence became more frequent in Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan. Furthermore, a severe drought was declared in the region in May, particularly affecting Somalia, northern Kenya, southeastern Ethiopia, northern Uganda, and Djibouti.
A Region on the Move alsocombines information on migration routes, migrant profiles, socio-economic drivers, and protection challenges. Humanitarian evacuations from Yemen, returns from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and information on Migration Response Centres – assistance facilities for migrants in distress – are also presented in the report.
Of the more than 390,000 movements observed in 2019 through flow monitoring in the region, 57 per cent were motivated by economic reasons. Most migration was observed along the Eastern route (61%), followed by the Horn of Africa route (35%), the Northern route (2%) and the Southern route (2%).
The Eastern route is used by migrants intending to travel to Yemen, the Middle East and beyond while the Horn of Africa route accounts for intra-regional movements. The Northern route is for those travelling to Libya and Egypt, and onwards to Europe while the Southern Route takes migrants to South Africa.
Along the Eastern route, more than 84,000 migrants’ crossings to Yemen were recorded, a very slight decrease from the same period in 2018. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, while continuing to attract young migrants eager to find economic opportunities, returned at least 57,843 Ethiopian nationals, 29,419 Yemeni and 2,284 Somali to their countries of origin in 2019 alone.
Commenting on the situation of vulnerable migrants along the different migratory routes, Mohammed Abdiker, Regional Director of IOM’s Regional Office for the East and Horn of Africa, said: “IOM is committed to supporting member states in the region in managing migration with particular focus on promoting developmental aspects like job creation in migrant sending communities to address the root causes of irregular migration. Meanwhile, the protection of migrants remains a firm priority against the scourge of human smuggling and trafficking.”
Among the report’s major highlights:
- With over 3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) as of March 2019, the Government of Ethiopia launched a nation-wide return process in April through the Ministry of Peace and the National Disaster Risk Management Commission;
- In South Sudan, the seven-month period post the revitalized peace agreement accounted for 45 per cent of the estimated 1.2 million returnees, but as indicated by movement dynamics in and out of Protection of Civilian sites, returns are fragile;
- Displacement in Burundi fell by more than 15 per cent, decreasing from 134,054 IDPs in January to 113,067 IDPs as of June 2019, mainly due to increased return and local integration;
- Aid agencies, in collaboration with the Government of Somalia, launched a Drought Impact Response Plan in June 2019, targeting 4.5 million people for an overall funding requirement of USD 685 million over a 7 months period;
- From January to June 2019, 1,631 new cases of Ebola were recorded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, bringing the total to 2,339 cases by the end of the reporting period and on 11 June the Ugandan Ministry of Health confirmed the cross-border spread of the outbreak;
- Similar to 2018, the vast majority of the more than 84,000 migrants’ arrivals in Yemen were of Ethiopian nationality (90%), followed by Somalis (10%) and 5 per cent were unaccompanied migrant children;
- Returns of Ethiopians, Sudanese, Yemeni and Somali in the thousands every month by the Government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia did not deter migratory movements;
- Humanitarian evacuations from Yemen continued, with 3,046 Ethiopians airlifted by IOM from Aden and Sana’a to Ethiopia. In collaboration with UNHCR, 1,009 Somali refugees were assisted from Aden to a reception centre in Berbera in the first half of the year;
- The number of migrants from the EHoA arriving by sea in Greece, Italy and Spain decreased by almost 80 per cent compared to the first half of 2018 (from 3,011 in 2018 to 635 in 2019).
These and other trends in migrant movements are studied by the Regional Data Hub (RDH) which was established in early 2018 at the IOM Regional Office for EHoA, under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa. The RDH, DTM and flow monitoring activities are now also funded by the Government of the Netherlands, and Danish International Agency.
The RDH aims to support evidence-based strategic and policy level discussion on migration through a combined set of initiatives. These include: strengthening regional primary and secondary data collection and analysis; increasing Information management capacity across countries; providing technical support to ensure harmonisation and interoperability of key methodologies used to monitor population mobility; and the engagement of key stakeholders and governmental counterparts in migration dialogue and consultation.
“While we welcome the Libyan government’s plan to close the three detention centres: Tajoura, Misrata and Souq Al Khamis, this plan needs to be transformed immediately into action to avoid further tragedies like Tajoura from recurring”, said Federico Soda, IOM Chief of Mission in Libya.
“The International Organisation for Migration renews its urgent call for the end of arbitrary detention in Libya, in a gradual orderly manner, that guarantees the safety of all detainees,” said Soda, adding that alternative solutions must be established and adopted as a matter of urgency to put an end to the intolerable suffering of thousands of migrants.
IOM continues to provide a safe and dignified way from which migrants wishing to return home can benefit. The Voluntary Humanitarian Return programme has managed to provide return assistance to over 47,000 vulnerable migrants wishing to leave Libya since 2015. Some 7,200 stranded migrants so far have left this year, of those 27 had been kept in the Tajoura facility just since the July airstrike.
So far this year, over 6,200 migrants were rescued at sea and returned to Libya. Many of them were placed in arbitrary detention while others were released into areas where armed conflict continues and where these migrants—and as many as 100,000 others—remain vulnerable to further risk of kidnapping and trafficking at the hands of smugglers.
On Sunday, September 29, 71 migrants were returned to Libyan shore after spending more than two days floating in a rubber dinghy when their craft’s engine failed. This incident and several tragic shipwrecks recorded this year highlight the need for increased search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean, disembarkation at safe ports and, in the absence of state-led search and rescue operations, the lifting of sanctions on NGOs that conduct lifesaving work in the Central Mediterranean.