Weighing the Risks: Protection risks and human rights violations...

© Jeroen Oerlemans | African migrants wait in Libya’s Misratah harbour for buses to take them to a detention centre west of Tripoli.

Weighing the Risks

Protection risks and human rights violations faced by migrants in and from East Africa


November 14, 2017. Written by: Danielle Botti / RMMS

Each month, hundreds of men, women and children leave the Horn of Africa for various reasons, including to escape political oppression and lack of livelihood and search for better opportunities elsewhere. Their journey develops along four main axes of movement: The Western Route towards Libya and Europe; the Eastern Route towards Yemen and onwards to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries; the Northern Route to Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, previously used to enter Israel; and the Southern Route towards Kenya and southern Africa. While aimed at ensuring safety and a better future, these trips often develop through dangerous circumstances, exposing migrants to a wide range of abuses from criminal networks and law enforcement officials alike.

The new RMMS briefing paper ‘Weighing the Risks: Protection risks and human rights violations faced by migrants in and from East Africa’ presents an analysis of the protection incidents occurring along these four main migratory routes. ‘Weighing the Risks’ builds on over 3,900 interviews with migrants and smugglers collected from RMMS’ innovative Mixed Migration Monitoring Mechanism Initiative (4Mi) – a low-cost custom-designed survey application which collects and analyses data on mixed migration flows through a network of local monitors stationed at key mixed migration hubs.

Key findings from ‘Weighing the Risks’ show that regardless of their destination, migrants from the Horn of Africa face serious protection risks on their journeys. Previous research has well documented the plight suffered by people on the move, focusing on specific abuses or dangerous locations along their route. The purpose of this study is to present an updated overview of the human rights violations facing migrants travelling from the Horn of Africa, by analyzing over 3,400 interviews collected along the main migratory routes from the region over a period of three years (2014 – 2017). Backed by a wide range of secondary sources from a variety of international organizations and researchers working in the field of migration, the new data collected by the RMMS Mixed Migration Monitoring Mechanism Initiative (4Mi) highlights the magnitude of the abuses faced by migrants in countries of origin, transit and destination. Key findings of this study reveal that:

  • 79 per cent of all migrants interviewed have either directly witnessed or experienced one or multiple abuses during their journey, including extortion, sexual violence and torture. The figures collected suggest that some migrants might have experienced the same abuse (including kidnappings) more than once during their migration;
  • While abuses are experienced along all routes and in all countries considered in this study, incidents seem to cluster in certain locations, especially along national borders or in areas that constitute a geographical frontier (such as deserts). The social and economic isolation of borderlands, as well as the limited control from central authorities, might make abusers prone to prey on irregular migrants crossing those areas;
  • Law enforcement officials are among the main perpetrators of human rights abuses towards migrants, according to the data collected along all routes. Government forces are reportedly responsible of sexual and physical abuses, kidnappings, disappearances and migrants’ deaths. Some forces not directly involved with the abuses can also be bribed to turn a blind eye to smugglers’ actions. Local police forces seem to be involved in the most illegal behavior, followed by border guards and immigration officials;
  • While both male and female migrants suffer a wide range of abuses en route, a high number of women and girls on the move seem to go missing along their journey. The disappearance of female migrants has already been highlighted in a previous research[1], yet the scale and scope of this phenomenon remains unknown;
  • Qualitative statements collected among migrants travelling between Ethiopia and Sudan point to the possible existence of illegal cross-border operations which connect migrant smuggling with the trafficking of narcotics and weapons. According to migrants’ testimonies, some police officers also take part in such activities. No verifiable evidence exists on such trends, and more research is due to confirm it, yet if true, this discovery would represent a revealing new finding in the study of smuggling in the Horn of Africa region.
  • The flows of people leaving their countries of origin continue to be mixed, as most migrants are pushed to leave by a combination of protection and economic factors, often influencing each other. The lack of regular migration options forces migrants to undertake unsafe journeys which leave them vulnerable to harsh living conditions and multiple abuses, further blurring any potential distinction between economic migrants and people in need of international protection[2].

[1] RMMS (2012). Desperate choices. Conditions, Risks & Protection Failures Affecting Ethiopian Migrants in Yemen. Available at: http://www.regionalmms.org/images/ResearchInitiatives/RMMSbooklet.pdf (last accessed: 02/07/2017)

[2] Consequently, in this study the label “migrant” is used to describe all people moving through mixed migratory flows from the region, including refugees, asylum seekers, irregular migrants and others.

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The RMMS is primarily funded by the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of the Swiss government and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development , with support from other donors for specific projects.