IOM Djibouti Highlights Pitfalls of Horn of Africa Migration Trail for Donors

Djibouti - On Sunday (21/2) IOM Djibouti welcomed a delegation of European, North American and Asian diplomats and representatives of humanitarian aid agencies. Their mission was to learn about one of the world’s most treacherous migration routes and the growing migrant crisis that is killing hundreds of migrants each year as they attempt to reach the Arabian Peninsula from the Horn of Africa.

A migration trail that is thousands of years old annually takes the lives of between 500 and 600 migrants, mainly from Ethiopia, officials of Djibouti’s security forces told delegates from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and the United States who were joined by counterparts from the European Commission and USAIM, the IOM-affiliated U.S. Association for International Migration.

Meeting with Djibouti Minister of Interior Hassan Omar Mohamed, as well as top officials of the National Gendarmerie and Coast Guard, the delegates learned that the coastal nation of less than a million inhabitants, annually receives around 180,000 irregular border crossers each year from the neighbouring state of Ethiopia – which borders Djibouti on three sides – and a much smaller number of Somali refugees. “At any given time, around 150,000 non-Djiboutians are living in Djibouti,” said Hassan Omar Mohamed.

Although nearly half this year’s new arrivals are turned back before they cross the arid country, hundreds a day are making their way to the coastal town of Obock, on the Gulf of Aden, where they embark on small fishing boats across the Bab el Mandeb Strait linking the Horn of Africa to the Arabian Peninsula.

“Bab el Mandeb means ‘The Place Where the People Cry’,” explained IOM Djibouti Chief of Mission Henry Glorieux, because of the treacherous waters where over 3,300 African migrants have died since 2006. IOM reported 95 died last year, all bound for Yemen. Despite the raging conflict in Yemen, some 60,000 Ethiopians passed through Djibouti in 2015.

IOM’s Missing Migrants Project reports 36 migrants have died at sea on this route through February 22 this year, or just under one per day. However, Djiboutian officials told the delegation that deaths by dehydration while crossing Djibouti, or due to road accidents, are about three times more common than drownings.

“Saudi Arabia is their destination and many are returning to jobs they had there before,” IOM’s Ali Abdallah Al-Jefri told the delegates, when they visited IOM’s Migrants Response Center in Obock. “Smugglers are telling Ethiopians that because of the violence in Yemen, now is a good time to try to go back to Saudi Arabia. But in fact it is the worst time,” he added.

Although IOM’s ability to monitor the situation in Yemen has been restricted since fighting began there almost a year ago, both Henry Glorieux says that Ethiopians who have been evacuated from Yemen in recent months have arrived at the Migrant Response Center in Obock bearing signs of torture, broken bones and, in some cases, gunshot wounds.

At the Lac Assal Gendarmerie Post on Monday, delegates met Dawit Deresseh, a 30-year-old Ethiopian migrant who is missing half his left arm. “They cut it off in Yemen,” he said, explaining that a vehicle he had been riding in with 26 other migrants last April struck a land mine near Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia. “All the others were Ethiopians,” he added. “All except me are dead.”

This week’s donor visit will continue in Ethiopia. It is part of an IOM campaign to raise awareness about the growing migrant emergency linking the Horn of Africa and the fighting in Yemen and drought / adverse effects of El Niño in Ethiopia which has prompted thousands more to attempt the perilous crossing to Yemen via Djibouti.

The Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan and the Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan calls for over $120 million in assistance to Yemen, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

For more information about the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan and the Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan, please go to:

For further information please contact Henry Glorieux at IOM Djibouti, Tel: +253 770 27 673, Email: Or Joel Millman at IOM HQ, Tel: + 41 79 103 87 20, Email: