The East African Migration Crisis and Security Implications

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Figure 1: Migrants from East African countries risking their life while crossing the Mediterranean / IMAGE/ worldview.stratfor.com

Recently the world saw yet another boat of migrants sinking off the coast of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden. The most recent of these events was on June 10th, where a boat carrying 260 people, mostly comprised of migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia sunk. Of the 260 people 49 died, 71 were rescued and the remaining 140 are missing.[1] These migrants attempted to sail from the coast of East Africa to Yemen, open seas that span 200 miles between the two points, that are dangerous waters for small craft especially. This incident is one of many that has have occurred of the East African coast, and one of even more spanning North Africa. In April, two other shipwrecks also occurred off the coast of Djibouti. To this point the pattern has been made, these migrants will not cease even though, according to the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM), 1,860 people have died or disappeared attempting this route, including 480 who have drowned.[2] The ultimate question is why? Additionally, what does these migrants hope for once they have reached Yemen, another notably violent location? Finally, what can be done about this situation? These questions are the point of this discussion to identify this unfortunate reality and describe potential solutions.

East African countries for the last few decades have faced significant security issues such as wars within Sudan, conflict between Sudan and the newly developed South Sudan in 2011, not to mention the current conflict within Sudan. Furthermore, Ethiopia has also seen its fair share of conflict internally while also surrounded by Somalia that has faced off against Al-Shabaab for decades. Finally, each East African nation to also include Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, and Eritrea have also seen different instances of political corruption, difficulties with infrastructure and conflict bleeding in from other neighboring nations. These are the situations that Africans are facing, forcing them to seek a better life since in their own countries and surrounding countries, the quality of life is so turbulent and violent, that these Africans chose to migrate. For these migrants instead of fleeing through other East African nations that only then lead to the sub-Saharan conflicts or the jungles of Central Africa that also face similar issues of corruption and violence, the last option is to attempt to escape to Arab nations or European nations for those that are lucky enough.

Ultimately this is the “why”, that out of desperation, these migrants from East Africa, and most recently Ethiopia seek a better life, jobs and stability. Yemen also faces their own conflict and issues with terrorism from the Houthi’s, yet once across the Gulf of Aden migrants hope to use Yemen as a major route to then reach Persian Gulf countries.[3] Although, once migrants from Ethiopia and other nations arrive in Yemen, they face human trafficking, sexual abuse, blackmail, forced labor and even torture. Those lucky few that can survive through traversing the Gulf of Aden and make it through Yemen can seek asylum status in some of the other Arab states or if able they can try to travel to Europe. Overall, this entire crisis is based around two essential issues to East Africa. First, is the severe lack of jobs and infrastructure for Africans. Second, being the widespread corruption and conflict that has plagued the area for years.

There is no single solution, nor best solution for helping these migrants from Ethiopia and surrounding East African nations, only “a” solution that may hopefully break the cycle of security issues in the area. Addressing jobs, one solution is that the United Nations can call to private industry from around the world to invest in the East African industrial complex. The continent itself has started to grow population wise and is projected to continue to rise into 2050 with one of the largest populations in the world.[4] This population will be made of up young workers just entering the workforce, and without adequate amounts of jobs, these Africans will either attempt to migrate where they can seek out employment, or join violent groups in the area that only exacerbate the security issues in the region. Another solution could be to provide a safe way to transport migrants to other countries thus exporting a willing workforce to other nations that can support or desire new workers, then educating a young workforce while boosting their own economies. Finally, another solution could be to empower East African governments through the globalized international community to support their productive and positive diplomatic actions that combat corruption in the region. While each of these solutions is broad in nature, they are goals that can truly support the area and benefit not just the people that are facing these serious issues daily, but the support can spread outside of Ethiopia, Sudan and other nations to across North Africa and beyond.

Overall, to decrease the number of migrants that are daring to take on risky trips across the Gulf of Aden, there must be action to break the cycle of security issues within East Africa. Without any action by the governments in the area or the international community, the numbers of migrant’s ships that sink and the numbers of migrants that perish on their escape, will almost certainly continue and very likely increase as the conflicts continue.

Author Bio:

Brendan Donnelly is a Fellow with the Consortium of Indo-Pacific Researchers and takes part in the consortium’s podcast series VIP Vanguard. He has an undergraduate degree in history from Bowling Green State University, with a double minor in political science and aerospace leadership. Brendan also has a graduate degree from Angelo State University in Global Security Studies with a specialization in national security. He has additionally published academic articles with the Journal for Indo-Pacific Affairs and has participated in several international security conferences. Views are personal.


[1] Al Jazeera, “At least 49 dead, 140 missing in migrant boat sinking off Yemen: UN”, Al Jazeera, (June 11, 2024), https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/6/11/dozens-dead-missing-in-migrant-boat-sin-king-off-yemen-un.

[2] Ibid.

[3] AP News, “At least 49 die and 140 are missing after migrant boat sinks off Yemen’s coast, UN agency says”, AP News, (June 11, 2024), https://apnews.com/article/yemen-migrants-boat-183378eae47484aba7be04e1fe0b693a#.

[4] Goldstone, Jack A. “Africa 2050: Demographic Truth and Consequences” Hoover Institution (January 14, 2019), https://www.hoover.org/research/africa-2050-demographic-truth-and-consequences.

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