Thousands of Migrants in the Horn of Africa Assisted Through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative - Five Years On

Nairobi - 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” 

Majority of the migrants travel in an irregular way relying on smugglers. Many get stranded, unable to continue with the journey or make their way home, leaving 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. Referred to as the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, the programme 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 the start of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative, 7,156 migrants have been enabled to return to their countries of origin. Further, 17,331 returnees have received immediate support upon their arrival back in their countries of origin, such as medical or psychological first aid, shelter and onward transport. 

Additionally, in the last five years, 17,043 returnees have received individual reintegration support. This can entail 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. The 61 projects have benefited over 120,000 returnees and community members. Developed based on the priorities identified by the communities, the projects promote job creation and economic empowerment, improve public infrastructure, address environmental degradation and climate change, and promote mental health and wellbeing.

To commemorate the fifth anniversary of the programme and celebrate International Migrants Day, IOM in Somalia hosted a photo exhibition ‘Where life take us’ in Hargeisa. 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. 

Located along the migratory routes in the region and in countries of origin are 15 Migrant Response Centres (MRCs) and transit centres that have been established or reinforced through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative. In close collaboration with partners, the 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 in terms of shelter, food, medical care, mental health and psychological support. I have also received information about the danger 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. IOM in Sudan will hold their 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 provided technical assistance of the partner governments and other stakeholders on areas of migrant protection and reintegration as well as  data management and 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 muti-stakeholder partnerships, monitoring and evaluation, the provision of material and financial contributions as well as direct support.

The EU-IOM Joint Initiative is also being implemented in 26 countries, also covering Sahel and Lake Chad and North Africa.

For more information contact: Laura Boucsein, email 

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