Total Number of Internally Displaced Persons in East & Horn of Africa Drastically Drops in 2019

The region remains in flux, with movements resulting from catastrophe and for personal reasons. Photo: IOM/Alexander Bee

Nairobi – The number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in East Africa and the Horn of Africa has dropped considerably in the past six months. A new report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says the reason is largely due to one development: 1.3 million Ethiopians displaced by communal violence in 2019 went home. 

Moreover, another 200,000 former IDPs were able to return to their homes in South Sudan and other countries.    

At the midpoint of 2019 [WA1] [WA2], the East and Horn of Africa region (EHoA) was home to 8.1 million IDPs and 3.5 million refugees and asylum-seekers. Today, the 3.5 million refugees and asylum seekers remain, but there are only 6.3 million IDPs. 

This represents almost a 22 per cent fall in IDPs in the region in just six months, according to the just released report, Region on the Move, which provides an overview of migration patterns in the region.  

“The overall drop in the number of internally displaced persons in East & Horn of Africa means peace and security has returned and migrants feel safe to return home,” said Mohammed Abdiker, Regional Director, IOM, East & Horn of Africa. 

Published by IOM’s Nairobi-based Regional Data Hub (RDH), the report explains that intercommunal violence in Ethiopia at the beginning of 2019 is estimated to have forced more than three million people to flee their homes. Yet by the end of the year, of the 6.3 million IDPs spread across the region. only 1.7 million remained in displacement across 1,199 sites in Ethiopia. Sixty-six per cent of those IDPs were affected by conflict, 22 per cent by drought and six per cent by seasonal flooding.  

In contrast, the report also found in Somalia and South Sudan that intercommunal conflict-driven displacement fueled by instability and insecurity persisted. The report also noted that intercommunal clashes linked to ethnic tensions and cattle raiding were still prominent in Ethiopia and South Sudan, respectively. 

Despite the overall reduction in the number of regional IDPs, Region on the Move found that new displacements in 2019 continued to be triggered largely by climate and environmental hazards. Such hazards included a prolonged, severe drought in the Horn of Africa region which impacted food security for the most part on areas in Somalia, northern Kenya, southeastern Ethiopia, northern Uganda and Djibouti.  

“We are concerned about new displacement in Somalia and South Sudan, and climate-induced displacement, particularly as it affects some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities who risk their lives on dangerous journeys,” IOM’s Abdiker added. 

Devastating floods following unprecedented heavy rains were also observed in the second half of the year. Heavy rains created favorable conditions for desert locusts, whose breeding contribute to a current infestation across East Africa—mainly in Ethiopia and Somalia--but also spreading to Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania. 

The region continues to see large numbers of people migrating towards the Arab Peninsula – along the Eastern Route – with 138,213 migrant crossings to Yemen from the Horn of Africa. This was notwithstanding the 120,825 returns of Ethiopian nationals organized by Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2019. 

Comparatively, the number of arrivals of East & Horn of Africa migrants registered across European arrival points in Greece, Italy and Spain fell from 4,624 in 2018 to 3,452 in 2019. 

  • IOM tracked more than 740,000 movements of migrants from observation points across the region. Fifty-eight per cent of people traveled for economic reasons, 12 per cent due to seasonal reasons, 11 per cent to escape conflict, six per cent due to natural disaster, while five per cent was short-term local movements, and four per cent moved for unknown reasons. 
  • The two main nationalities of migrants tracked through flow monitoring were Ethiopian (76 per cent) and Somali (20 per cent).  
  • 58 per cent were adult males, 24 per cent were adult females and 18 per cent were children.  
  • Out of the 744,113 movements observed, 63 per cent were tracked along the Eastern Route to Yemen and onward to the Middle East through Djibouti, Somaliland or Puntland. Thirty-three per cent travelled on the Horn of Africa Route towards countries located in the Horn, two per cent along the Northern Route to Egypt, Libya—and sometimes onward to Europe—and two per cent along the Southern Route to South Africa.  
  • Overall, 50 per cent were migrating towards Saudi Arabia, 16 per cent intended to travel to Somalia, 12 per cent were headed to Yemen, 12 per cent to Ethiopia and five per cent to Djibouti.  
  • IOM registered 120,825 Ethiopian nationals returning from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia upon arrival at the Bole Airport in Addis Ababa between January and December 2019, 99.6 per cent of which reported that they were returning involuntarily.  
  • In 2019, IOM’s Missing Migrants Project recorded 66 migrants as dead and another 33 as missing in the East and Horn of Africa region. 

Established in early 2018 at IOM’s Regional Office for the East and Horn of Africa (EHoA), the Regional Data Hub (RDH) is funded largely through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa. Publications and the 2019 RDH snapshot can be consulted at  


For more information, please contact at the IOM Regional Office in Nairobi: Laura Nistri, Tel: +254 204 221 000, Email:;  

For media enquiries, please contact at the IOM Regional Office in Nairobi: Yvonne Ndege Tel: +254 797735977, Email: 

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