Thus far, 2018 has been historic in many ways. Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a landmark declaration of peace and friendship on 9 July, casting aside decades of hostility in a matter of weeks. The announcement of the end to the state of war was met by widespread jubilation in both countries, and was matched by concrete acts of rapprochement, which included reopening telephone and air links as well as the Eritrean embassy in Ethiopia. Later in July, Eritrea and Somalia announced a restoration of diplomatic relations through a joint declaration that affirmed a mutual commitment to foster regional peace, stability and economic integration. This was followed, in September, by a high level ministerial meeting between Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea that culminated in a joint declaration on comprehensive cooperation between the three countries that will see closer political, economic, social and cultural ties and improved coordination to promote regional peace and security and contribute to economic integration in the region. Shortly after, two border posts reopened between Eritrea and Ethiopia that had previously been closed for 20 years.
These unexpected, but much-welcomed, détentes are rare breakthroughs in a region that has been beset by insecurity and challenging diplomatic relations for decades.
In another important milestone, the African Union adopted a Protocol on Free Movement of Persons in Africa in January 2018. Its adoption has been described as a turning point in the continent’s complex history, which has seen the maintenance of colonial borders that have largely impeded intra-Africa mobility. If challenges in its implementation can be overcome, the Protocol is expected to bring about greater intra-Africa trade, commerce, tourism and labour mobility, among other benefits.
Yet, despite these important developments, it can be said that much has stayed the same. Displacement levels remain high with little indication of falling: an estimated 4.6 million refugees and asylum seekers as well as 13.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) are hosted in the greater region. And, like in previous years, the factors forcing people from their homes continue to relate to conflict and insecurity as well as environmental challenges, such as flooding. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Horn of Africa migrants continue to make dangerous, irregular journeys eastwards to Gulf Cooperation Council countries, northwards to Europe, and southwards to Southern Africa in the pursuit of better economic opportunities or in the hope of finding asylum.
The following sections analyze key migration trends in the first six months of the year: January to June, 2018.