Hundreds of thousands of migrants travel one of the busiest and riskiest migration routes running from the Horn of Africa to the Arabian Peninsula that is referred to as the ‘Eastern Route’. The ‘Southern Route’ is used by scores of irregular migrants journeying southward in the hope of reaching South Africa while other migrants transit through Libya on their journey towards Europe through the “Northern Route”. 

The majority of migrants travel in an irregular way, relying on smugglers. Many get stranded, unable to continue their journey or make their way home. This leaves them vulnerable to various form of exploitation, violence, and abuse. 

A comprehensive programme to save lives, protect and assist migrants along key migration routes in Africa was launched in December 2016. The EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, implemented in 26 countries across Sahel and Lake Chad, Horn of Africa and North Africa enables migrants who decide to return to their countries of origin to do so in a safe and dignified way and provides them with assistance to help them restart their lives.

In the Horn of Africa, the Joint Initiative is active in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan. Since its start,  the EU-IOM Joint Initiative has enabled 7,153  migrants to return to their countries of origin. 17,447 returnees received immediate support upon arrival back to their countries of origin, such as medical or psychological first aid, shelter and onward transportation. 

Additionally, over the past six years, 17,017 returnees received individual reintegration support. This entails economic support to enable returnees to re-establish their livelihoods in their communities of origin. It can also include social support, ensuring that returnees and their families have access to housing, education and healthcare.

The difficult experiences faced by many migrants in the Horn of Africa can have a direct impact on their mental health and wellbeing. To help them cope, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative has provided psychosocial support in the form of individual or group counselling and referral to specialized care to 12,830 migrants.  

To embrace the whole-of-society approach to migration, mitigate some of the drivers to irregular migration and enhance social cohesion between returnees and their communities, community-based reintegration projects have been established in close collaboration with local authorities, other partners and the host community. A total of 61 projects have benefited over 120,000 returnees and community members. Developed based on priorities identified by the communities, these projects promote job creation and economic empowerment, improve public infrastructure, address environmental degradation and climate change, and promote mental health and wellbeing.

In December 2022, IOM marked the sixth anniversary of the programme and celebrated International Migrants Day, with a photo exhibition ‘Where life takes us’ in Hargeisa, Somalia. The images portrayed the unique role that migrants play in social and economic development, the region’s migratory dynamics and multi-faceted realities of the migration journey. The images had been gathered over a three-year period during the programme’s implementation. 

A total of 15 Migrant Response Centres (MRCs) and transit centres have been established or reinforced through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative along migratory routes in the region and in countries of origin. In close collaboration with partners, these centres provide food and water, medical care, shelter, counselling and specialized protection services. 

Bashir, a 25-year-old, Ethiopian migrant shared his migratory experience during EU-IOM Joint Initiative anniversary celebrations at the Obock MRC in Djibouti. “I left Ethiopia for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to look for a job to improve my life and provide for my loved ones. I was stranded in Yemen under the control of smugglers who exploited me and other migrants. They subjected us to violence, and we had limited access to food, water, shelter and health care.  I was lucky to have escaped and boarded a makeshift boat to reach the coast of Djibouti and finally the MRC in Obock where I have received assistance including shelter, food, medical care, mental health and psychological support. I have also received information about the dangers and risks of irregular migration”.

In Ethiopia, returnees who have benefited from the programme gave testimonials of their return journey and the current status of their lives. One of them, who is a singer performed during the event and a photographer returnee exhibited her photos. In Sudan, IOM will hold anniversary celebrations in January 2023. 

Since the start of the programme, significant progress has been made in establishing systems supporting the protection and reintegration of migrants in the Horn of Africa region. IOM has strengthened the capacity and technical assistance to partner governments and other stakeholders in areas of migrant protection and reintegration as well as data management. Governments in the region have demonstrated significant political commitments, ranging from the creation or adaptation of normative frameworks and their leading role in coordination structures, to the enhancement of operational cooperation and promotion of multi-stakeholder partnerships, monitoring and evaluation, the provision of material and financial contributions as well as direct support.

For more information, contact: Laura Boucsein, email: