Key mixed migration characteristics

Migrants entering Djibouti claim they are primarily escaping persecution, insecurity and endemic poverty and/or restricted economic opportunities and originate mainly from Somalia and Ethiopia. For the majority of migrants, Djibouti is a transit country on their way to Yemen and other Gulf states. There are a number of arrivals into Djibouti who choose to seek asylum and asylum seekers from Somalia are granted refugee status on a prima facie basis. For asylum seekers of other nationalities, they undergo individual Refugee Status Determination (RSD) procedures.

As at February 2015, there were 14,944 refugees and asylum seekers registered in Djibouti primarily residing in two camps - Ali Addeh and Holl Holl. Of this number approximately 2,513 refugees and asylum seekers reside in the capital, Djibouti Ville.   

Most recent statistics 

Since 2011, departure points in and around the Obock area of Djibouti have been the preferred departure points for the majority of migrants attempting to reach Yemen by boat. In 2014, trends indicated an increased movement of people through Somaliland possibly due to stricter enforcement of anti-smuggling laws and increased border patrols in Djibouti and higher risks of abduction for ransom on arrival at Yemen’s Red Sea coast.  The number of mixed migrants travelling through Djibouti in 2014 decreased by approximately 12% compared to 2013. At the end of 2014, UNHCR figures showed that 46% of all arrivals to Yemen departed from Obock and its environs, numbering 42,424 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Refugees and Asylum-seekers in Djibouti

UNHCR statistics as of February 2015;

Total refugee population hosted in Djibouti = 14,944 of whom;









Total asylum seekers in Djibouti =2,513

Total Djiboutian refugees worldwide = 809

Total Djiboutian asylum seekers worldwide = 313

Main drivers and motivation for migration

Mixed migration in Djibouti is characterized by thousands of Ethiopians and Somalis who largely use it as a transit country on their way to Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Some stay in Djibouti Ville, where there is a sizable Somali community, or are detained at the Nagad detention facility used primarily for holding undocumented migrants. Most of the migrants in the capital reportedly do not intend to remain in Djibouti.  

Djibouti has a total population of 870,000 (UNDP; Human Development Reports 2014) and is a country with a low Multidimensional Poverty Index (score value = 0.127), ranked at 164 out of 187 countries. Despite the poverty levels in Djibouti, limited employment and livelihood opportunities (unemployment rates are estimated to be between 50-60%), very few Djiboutian have been documented as leaving their country irregularly.

As a country of mixed migration origin

According to the CIA Fact File official figures, Djibouti has a net migration of 6.06 migrants/1,000 population, meaning that it receives more people than the number leaving the country. As a country of origin, in 2014, UNHCR reported 809 registered refugees of Djiboutian origin worldwide.

As a country of mixed migration destination

Most people entering Djibouti, originate from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, and are escaping from persecution, insecurity and poverty. The vast majority use Djibouti as a transit territory en route to Yemen and the Gulf States. Djibouti is also a country of asylum for Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans. As a country of destination, Djibouti offers most asylum seekers from Somalia (specifically South- Central Somalia) refugee status on a prima facie basis, whilst those from Eritrea, Ethiopia and other neighbouring countries undergo individual RSD procedures.  According to UNHCR figures, there are 14,944 refugees and asylum seekers residing in the country with approximately 80% in Ali Addeh and Holl Holl refugee camps.  Approximately 2,513 refugees and asylum seekers reside in the capital Djibouti Ville according to UNHCR figures. In addition to refugees and asylum seekers, there are an unknown number of undocumented Ethiopians in Djibouti Ville according to the Oromia Support Group.

As a country of mixed migration transit

Djibouti serves as a vital transit country for mixed migratory flows towards the Gulf States, the Middle East and beyond. Recent UNHCR figures indicate that on average, about 3,500 migrants cross through the Red Sea from Djibouti ports each month. At least 80% of all recorded migrants crossing Djibouti are Ethiopians with their destination being primarily Yemen and onwards to Saudi Arabia.  In 2014, 42,424 migrants were recorded as having departed from Obock and recently Moulhoule (further north of Obock) to reach Yemen.

Characteristics of migration (means and modes)

Migrants passing through Djibouti mainly do so by mini-bus or travelling by foot. For migrants with the resources to contract smugglers, they are usually transported by vehicle into the capital Djibouti Ville or to Obock, while those without such means walk through deserted areas to reach their destinations. Those that aim to reach Yemen use smugglers to clandestinely transport them to Yemen across the Red Sea via the port of Obock or other remote coastal locations. Migrants arriving at the Loyada border (with Somaliland) are screened by UNHCR and the government refugee agency (ONARS- Office Nationale D'assistance aux Refugie Setsinistres) and transported to the Ali Adeh or Holl Holl refugee camps.

Risks and vulnerabilities of mixed migration in Djibouti

Increased border patrols have led to people using increasingly clandestine methods to transit through Djibouti to avoid arrests and deportation. Extortion by smugglers en route is common. There have been reports of deaths due to dehydration and exposure within desolate areas where Ethiopians, in particular, walk through on their way to the coast to avoid detection on the roads. There are other reports of sexual and physical abuse of migrants as they approach and wait along the coast. According to the US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report 2014, smugglers and smuggling networks sometimes charge exorbitantly high rents or kidnap migrants for ransom in Djibouti. The perpetrators of abuse are mostly the armed groups that control the smuggling business, though not exclusively the case as incidents of migrants abusing fellow migrants have been reported. Reported abuses range from beatings, sexual abuse including rape and brutalization of female migrants, and forced disembarkation in deep water. In some cases exploitation extends to the destination shores where migrants are abused or robbed by the smugglers demanding more money.

Detention of migrants

According to the RMMS detention of migrants report, Djiboutian authorities conduct round ups of non-Djiboutian residents as well as interception of boats making their way to Yemen. Migrants detained are held at either Nagad detention facility or local prisons in groups without independent court review and individual assessments. Persons detained are usually deported within 24 hours of arrest and this sometimes includes asylum seekers.  Reports indicate that the detention of migrants in practice does not distinguish between minors and adults, and migrant children are commonly detained alongside adults. It is estimated that 30% of all migrants departing for Yemen are minors and Djibouti currently does not have a policy directed towards protection of migrant children further exposing them to risk and vulnerability. There are however interventions by a faith based NGO assisting older migrant minors in their late teens.

Response of authorities

In response to irregular migration, authorities in Djibouti have increased patrols along border points with Somalia and Ethiopia and migration routes, as well as routinely detaining undocumented migrants. Irregular migration is an offence by law identifiable by a lack of a valid travel document or failure to display sufficient resources to live (Art. 3 & 4, Act No.201/AN/07/5éme). Because of limited resources and detention facilities, detention of migrants and subsequent deportation is arbitrary and widely used.

Institutional framework

The following agencies in Djibouti are involved in migration and refugee affairs:

• Commission Nationale d’Éligibilitè des Refugiès (CNE) conducts Refugee Status Determination (RSD) under the auspices of UNHCR.

• Organisation National d’Assistance aux Réfugiés et Sinistrés (ONARS) is located within the Ministry of the Interior (Ministère de l’Interieur) and manages refugee camps.


The following legislation is of particular importance in the area of mixed migration:

International conventions: Djibouti is party to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and the Palermo Protocols (by accession), as well as a signatory to the 1969 OAU Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa and the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention). By means of succession, Djibouti is also a party to the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.

National legislation (immigration): Act No. 201/AN/07/5éme was adopted in 2007 by the National Assembly and sets the conditions for entry and residence in the Republic of Djibouti.

National legislation (asylum): Ordinance No.77-053/PR/AE is the primary law on refugees. According to Article 1, the law complies with international conventions that Djibouti is a party to. Article 4 states that refugees can be expelled if they pose a threat to national security. Article 7 also stipulates that, with regard to engaging in professional activities, those with a refugee status are treated the same as other foreigners in Djibouti.

National legislation (smuggling and trafficking): Act No. 210/AN/07/5éme on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings was adopted in 2007 and applies to any person who may be a victim of trafficking including cases of forced labour and sex trafficking, with a focus on vulnerability due to age (under 18), sex (women) or physical and/or mental health. Part IV of the Act (Article 7) provides that the penalty for any person engaged in, or an accomplice to a person engaged in, trafficking in human beings is 2-5 years in prison and a fine of 500,000 to 1,000,000 Djiboutian Francs (DJF). In severe cases of trafficking - for example, when the act involves violence, kidnapping, the worst forms of child labour or was the work of an organised group - the penalty is 10-15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 to 5,000,000 DJF. Penalties are doubled when the trafficking results in the disappearance or death of the victim.

Bilateral agreements

Memorandum of Understanding on human trafficking between Djibouti and Ethiopia, November 2009

International conventions to which Djibouti is a State Party

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

International Covenant on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

OAU 1969 Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa

United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Convention on the Rights of the Child

Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict

Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography

United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime

Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children

Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea

African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Other sites offering comprehensive country profile information

Central Intelligence Agency (USA)

United Nations Data Country Profile - Djibouti

2015 UNHCR Country Profile – Djibouti

Official website of the Republic of Djibouti

U.S. Department of State Report – Djibouti 2014


UNHCR Statistical Online Population Database Data extracted: 24/03/2015.

UNHCR Information Sharing Portal: Somali Displacement Crisis accessed: 01/01/2015.


Last updated: April 2015


recommend to friends
  • gplus
  • pinterest