“Environmental migrants are persons or groups of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive change in the environment that adversely affects their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad” (IOM, 2011:33).

Migration has been used historically as an adaptation strategy to environmental pressures, and this is no different in the East and Horn of Africa (EHoA) region. However, the adverse impact of climate change and particularly when combined with other socio-economic pressures, is resulting in a growing number of people who are compelled to migrate without adequate support or planning. Migration, when managed properly, can be a sustainable adaptation strategy to adverse climate and environmental change and contribute significantly to the economic development of a country. However, un-managed migration can also have significantly negative impacts on the migrants, their families and community as well as environmental repercussions for areas of origin and areas of destination. Additionally, IOM also recognizes that the cost of migration is often high, and the most vulnerable may be those who do not have the economic and social capital to move to seek new opportunities. The most vulnerable may therefore be these ‘trapped populations’.

In the East and Horn of Africa, environmental considerations play an increasingly important role in migration management and policy-making. Climate predictions for the 21st century indicate that even more people are expected to be on the move as climate-related events become more frequent and intense. The region is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events and is seeing significant changes in seasonal rainfall patterns and an increasing intensity and frequency in cycles of drought. These result in both sudden, disaster displacement as well as environmental migration that stems from the deterioration of natural resources and resulting livelihoods losses.

In line with IOM’s East and Horn of Africa Regional Strategy for 2020- 2024, and the three pillars of the IOM Strategic Vision – resilience, mobility and governance – the Migration, Environment and Climate Change (MECC) Division is focussing its efforts on;

  1. Research and Capacity Enhancement- the EHoA MECC Division engages in research on contemporary, environmental/climate migration trends and challenges, including multi-agency studies, to build the evidence base and the capacity of stakeholders, in order to support advocacy, policy development and programming.
  2. Advocacy and Policy support- Building on clear evidence, the EHoA MECC Division works with government and non-government partners to raise environmental/climate migrants’ perspectives, needs and vulnerabilities to legislators and those involved in policy development.
  3. Programming- Leveraging IOM’s extensive programming experience, the EHoA MECC Division works in tandem with all of IOM’s Divisions and Departments, as well as with external humanitarian and development partners and government stakeholders, to ensure that environmental migrants and vulnerable communities are more resilient to the adverse impacts of current, as well as future climate change and environmental degradation.

For further insights in terminology, legal and human rights-based approaches to migration and climate change, see: