Migration from Africa to Arabian Gulf Decreases, Risks Facing Migrants Increase as Countries Grapple with COVID-19

Nairobi/Cairo – Migration on the world’s busiest maritime route from the Horn of Africa to the Arabian Gulf has dropped dramatically since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic while stigmatization and ill-treatment of migrants are increasing. 

Early indications suggest the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a key factor influencing migration patterns. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), between January and March 2019, approximately 37,000 migrants crossed the Gulf of Aden to reach Yemen; fewer than 28,000 made the same journey in the first quarter of this year. 

The flow began to dry up as the pandemic spread.  Security was heightened at borders and informal entry points, and crackdowns initiated against smugglers and traffickers. Arrivals decreased by a quarter between February and March 2020, by the end of the month barely any departures were reported from Djibouti and movements from Somalia had decreased by 25 per cent. 

Along the route, migrants face serious risks to their protection and human rights, as thousands have found themselves stranded and a rising number face crowded conditions in transit and detention centres, as well as forced quarantine in circumstances not aligned with public health measures. 

 “All authorities have a responsibility to respect the rights of migrants, even in times of emergencies such as COVID-19,” said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM Regional Director for the East and Horn of Africa. 

“As many countries tighten border controls in an effort to contain COVID-19, it is critical for authorities to implement infection control measures in full compliance with public health guidelines. Forced quarantine based on immigration status is not in line with global standards and puts the lives of both migrants and host communities at risk.” 

Migrants are also being scapegoated by local media who are labelling them as carriers of diseases like COVID-19 and cholera. 

Last year, more than 138,000 people crossed the Gulf of Aden on boats on the so-called Eastern Corridor. The vast majority are Ethiopian nationals bound for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in search of employment.   

“IOM is concerned that migrants are being stigmatized and associated with the risk of importing diseases. Conditions along route, including barriers to health services, poor living and working conditions and exploitation, pose serious health risks,” said Abdiker. 

“In these times, we need to move towards inclusivity – IOM supports recommendations for Universal Health Coverage as advocated by WHO,” said Carmela Godeau, IOM Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.  

“The Organization also calls for robust preparedness and response measures that actively include migrants and the communities hosting them. The needs of all migrants, regardless of their legal status, should be considered in public health planning, response and messaging.”  

For more information, please contact:  

IOM’s Office in Yemen – Olivia Headon +967730552233, Email: 

IOM’s Regional Office for the East and Horn of Africa – Yvonne Ndege +254797735977, Email: 

IOM’s Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa – Farah Abdul Sater +201060351567, Email:  

IOM’s Department of Operations and Emergencies in Geneva – Angela Wells +41 79 403 5365, Email: