Forced displacement and mixed migration challenges in the IGAD region



This article looks at the dynamics and trends of forced displacement and mixed migration from a practitioner's’ point of view at the IGAD level. It highlights key focus areas and issues in the region.

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    Migration has become a defining national and regional political issue, as it touches on powerful underlying concerns relating to human rights, international economics, labour demands, security, governance, and a globalised but increasingly unequal world. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) covers a diverse region with a population of over 230 million, comprising areas of economic growth and investment and areas prone to violent conflict, political instability, and humanitarian crises (IGAD Regional Strategy, 2016). The IGAD region is one of the world’s largest refugee producing and hosting areas, with up to 11 million forcefully displaced persons (RMMS, 2017). Most of the displacement in the region is protracted, lasting 10 years on average, as for refugees from Eritrea, Somalia, and South Sudan. In line with trends in global displacement, forced displacement and mixed migration in the Horn of Africa has become more complex over the last five years. It has increased in volume too, fuelled by political, socio-economic, and environmental factors.

    While displacement has clear negative impacts on the countries of origin, it also has spill-over effects throughout a much larger area. For example, Somali and South Sudanese refugees are found throughout the IGAD region. Most refugees in the Horn of Africa live in camps though some are housed in settlements, as in Uganda. These camps and settlements tend to be in underdeveloped and marginalised areas, compared to the rest of the host country. Many refugee hosting communities already face precarious socio-economic conditions, marked by food insecurity, limited access to basic services, poor livelihood opportunities, and degraded natural resources. Protracted displacement of refugees further exacerbates their situation. The result can be competition for scarce resources and pressure on the environment, sometimes leading to conflicts and clashes (Forced Displacement and Mixed Migration, 2015, World Bank and UNHCR).

    Migration flows in the IGAD region are mixed, that is, they include persons with various different profiles and levels of vulnerabilities: migrant workers (both regular and irregular), refugees, smuggled migrants, trafficked persons, unaccompanied children, environmental migrants, stranded migrants, and victims of exploitation and abuse. Some use irregular channels to flee political unrest, persecution, and conflict, while others seek to escape situations of extreme resource scarcity, including drought, crop failure, food insecurity, and severe poverty. In the host and transit countries, migrants have less protection than others. They are also more subject to exploitation, and less tolerated.

    IGAD’s role in addressing forced displacement and mixed migration

    As a regional actor, IGAD recognises the need to respond to forced displacement and mixed migration flows in a way that addresses the structural causes. In pursuing a holistic approach, it supports programmes to build the capacity of governance structures at the national, sub-national, and local levels for improved development. At the same time, it works to mitigate the economic, social, and environmental impacts of migration on the host communities. These efforts are guided by the IGAD Migration Action Plan (MAP) 2015-2020, developed to operationalise the overarching Regional Migration Policy Framework (RMPF).

    Addressing mixed migration

    IGAD has established a number of initiatives to address mixed migration. Its aim is to maximise protection and save lives, while working towards sustainability and increased government ownership and capacity to respond to needs by reinforcing governments’ migration management capacities.

    For better regional and national coordination, it has established platforms for dialogue and information sharing. In 2008, IGAD launched a regional consultative process on migration, and set up the IGAD Regional Migration Coordination Committee (RMCC). These provide a framework for discussing and following up on progress in implementing the RMPF and MAP.

    Through national coordination mechanisms and a ‘whole of government approach’ to migration management, IGAD supports member states, especially in strengthening cooperation and coordination on migration management at the national level. Since 2014 it has established national coordination mechanisms (NCMs) for this. Currently Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and South Sudan have fully operational NCMs, with the remaining countries formalising their own NCMs.

    IGAD is also in the process of negotiating a free movement of persons regime. This protocol would harmonise policies and procedures on free movement of persons, regulations, and the rights of trade and labour migrants across the IGAD region, while promoting transhumance mobility. Facilitating movements is the objective envisaged.

    Development response to displacement

    IGAD has adopted a development response to forced displacement. This is a strategic shift from a purely humanitarian approach that leaves out the host communities towards a comprehensive response to the social, economic an environmental implications of displacement for both the persons displaced and the host communities. Real improvements for those living in situations of protracted displacement and for the affected host populations can be achieved only by addressing issues of housing, livelihoods and jobs, access to services, inclusion, and governance in ways that benefit all. The goal is to ensure that displaced people are more self-reliant rather than needing continued humanitarian aid.

    Development actors in the region have been called to work comprehensively and scale up their efforts to counter the impacts of forced displacement on fragile and conflict-affected countries and regions. In this regard, IGAD has developed two main responses: the Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP) and the Nairobi Declaration on Durable Solutions for Somali Refugees and Reintegration of Returnees in Somalia.

    DRDIP aims to improve access to basic social services, expand economic opportunities, and enhance environmental management for communities hosting refugees. IGAD will use knowledge and insights generated from the project to showcase good practices in integrated service delivery in refugee hosting areas. Benefits in terms of economic inclusion and sustainable management of the environment will also be documented and shared. Through generation of evidence supporting innovative development approaches, DRDIP hopes to bring about a shift in mind-set among IGAD member states and partners working on displacement. To effectively coordinate this response IGAD has established the Regional Secretariat on Forced Displacement and Mixed Migration, based in Nairobi with the support of the World Bank.

    Regarding the Nairobi Declaration, IGAD convened a special summit on durable solutions for Somali refugees and reintegration of returnees in Somalia. At that gathering, in March 2017, member states agreed on a comprehensive regional approach to address the Somali refugees’ situation, while maintaining protection and promoting self-reliance in the countries of asylum, consistent with international responsibility-sharing as outlined in the New York Declaration’s Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF).

    The Nairobi Declaration and its prospects in the IGAD region

    IGAD appreciates that a coherent and comprehensive set of policies is essential to move towards solutions. However, these alone are not sufficient. Common objectives and goals are also needed, alongside agreed actions, a clear delivery framework, dedicated resources, a robust monitoring system, and a targeted communication strategy. Only by pooling resources and efforts and translating them into concrete joint actions will it be possible to make tangible progress for refugees and host communities on the ground.

    With the adoption of the Nairobi Declaration and its accompanying action plan, IGAD member states committed to respond collectively to one of the world’s most prolonged displacement crises. Now in its third decade, there are over a million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and nearly 900,000 refugees in the region.

    Member states have set strategic objectives, outcomes, indicators, and milestones for implementation of the Nairobi Declaration. The framework provides the means to track progress in delivery on the commitments and the results achieved. In line with this, countries are developing national action plans (NAPs) defining policy changes, investments, and other actions required to deliver on the commitments made. Resource mobilisation will be undertaken on a rolling basis using biannual meetings of IGAD member states and key donors and international financial institutions. These gatherings will also provide opportunities to take stock of progress made across the region. To support the process a set of regional thematic meetings will be convened on specific issues, such as education for refugees and host communities, self-reliance, and third-country resettlement. These will provide opportunities to share experiences and best practices and address bottlenecks and challenges.

    The Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework and the Nairobi Declaration

    The UN General Assembly has called for a global response and international support to ensure that forced displacement and migration challenges are addressed in a coherent, comprehensive, and balanced manner backed by international responsibility-sharing to support hosting countries. The Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), led by the UN Refugee Agency, provides an imperative to overcome the outdated view of refugees and migrants as burdens on societies. The Declaration urges governments to come up with a fresh and more realistic view of refugees and migrants as active contributors to development and welfare in the societies that host them.

    Countries in the IGAD region have expressed a need for increased responsibility-sharing by the international community, while committing to reform various aspects of refugee protection. Key among these commitments were those made during the Leaders’ Summit, held during the 71st UN General Assembly in September 2016. It is in this context that the IGAD summit adopted the Nairobi Declaration, further reinforcing the commitments made by member states at the Leaders’ Summit. The Nairobi Declaration can be viewed as the regional application of CRRF, which pursues a multi-sectoral response to displacement that considers the development impacts of displacement on host communities and governments. Five IGAD member states (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Somali and Djibouti) have become CRRF pilot countries. The Nairobi Declaration will be part and parcel of this process.

    National action plans are to be part of the overall CRRF implementation strategy. Each country will come up with a consolidated national plan of action. DRDIP will complement the CRRF objectives too, for example, through initiatives to ease pressure on host countries. This approach is a game changer for the communities that have long relied on humanitarian support. It holds real potential to leave them more empowered and with a greater sense of dignity.

    To deliver on these commitments, there is growing international recognition that development actors must engage earlier than they have been doing and adopt a longer-term planning approach at the onset of a displacement crisis. Furthermore, they need to work in collaboration with displacement-affected governments including those at the local level, host communities, and international humanitarian partners.


    Intergovernmental Authority on Development. 2016. IGAD Regional Strategy Volume 1: The framework.

    Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. 2016. Global Report on Internal Displacement 2016. Geneva: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

    Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat. September, 2017. RMMS monthly summary for East Africa and Yemen.

    World Bank and UNHCR. 2015. Forced Displacement and Mixed Migration in the Horn of Africa.

    World Bank. 2017. “Forcibly Displaced: Toward a Development Approach Supporting Refugees, the Internally Displaced, and Their Hosts” (Overview).

    About the authors
    Caroline Njuki is Senior Programme Coordinator at the IGAD Regional Secretariat on Forced Displacement and Mixed Migration.

    Woldamlak Abera is Forced Displacement Officer at the IGAD Regional Secretariat on Forced Displacement and Mixed Migration.

    Photo: Displaced children in their make-shift shelter made of leaves, wooden poles and plastic sheeting.Credit: Rikka Tupaz/UN Migration Agency (IOM) Ethiopia, 2017

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