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Migration Priorities and Normative and Institutional Frameworks In the IGAD Region

This article examines the state of migration and its governance in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) region, comprising Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. It has three major parts. The first part explains the overall state of migration in the IGAD region. The second section discusses the current institutional framework on migration at the continental and regional level. The third section proposes areas of intervention. The proposed interventions seek to improve inter-state and intra-regional cooperation on migration governance in order to harness benefits from and minimize adverse impacts of migration.

The governance of migration is one of the major global issues of our time. According to the United Nations, globally there are more than 295 million migrants, including 200 million international migrants.[1] There are more than 31 million African migrants spread across both Africa and internationally. These numbers are expected to quadruple in 30 years, and by 2050 one in four international migrants will be of African origin.There are currently more than 52 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) world wide,[2] and 21.3 million refugees and asylum seekers.[3] These numbers exclude IDPs whose flight derives from development-induced displacement and disasters. Thus, when these causes of displacement are all taken into account, the total number of IDPs in Africa exceeds 20 million.[4] With mega trends in development project and climate change induced disasters, the number of IDPs is expected to increase.

State of Migration and Trends

Within the IGAD region, forced migration takes several forms. Apart from forced migration due to conflict, there are migrations of peasants due to natural calamities and the seasonal mobility of agro-pastoralist communities.  Other factors causing, accelerating and triggering displacement pertain to conflicts, development induced mobility or forceful evictions. Under voluntary migration we could subsume factors such as the quest for opportunity, advances in transport and communication technologies and kin community influences that also encourage and entice mobility of young people.

Excluding pastoralist mobility and those displaced due to natural and man-made disasters and development projects, the IGAD region currently produces 6.5 million IDPs, 88 % in Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia. [5] This constitutes more than 17 % of the global and half of Africa’s IDPs are in the Horn of Africa. [6] It also hosts 2.46 million refugees, while at the same time producing 3.12 million refugees. In relative terms, the region hosts 12 % and produces 15 % of the world’s refugees, carrying far more than its share of the global burden. As the fifth largest host, Ethiopia alone hosts 665,000 refugees.[7]

 Data Source: IDMC, Compiled: Mehari Taddele Maru

 Data Source: UNHCR, Compiled: Mehari Taddele Maru

International Migrants and Intra-regional Migration in the IGAD Region

Of the 31 million Africans estimated to be living outside Africa, 8 million, or around 26%, are from the IGAD region.[8] 50% of these 8 million people migrate within the region, while 46% migrate to developed countries (Europe, the USA, and Canada), and 4% migrate to the Middle East. Similarly, the international migrant stock in the region is even lower at average of 3.2 percentage of the total population of the region. Djibouti with 14.2 % of its population has the highest international migrant stock, while Somalia and Eritrea have the lowest at 0.2 % of their population.

 Data source: UN DSA Compiled: Mehari Taddele Maru

Normative and Institutional Framework: Developments within the AU and other RECs

The AU Migration Policy Framework for Africa (2006) and the African Common Position on Migration and Development (2006) enable mainstreaming migration into development activities at national, regional and continental levels. At the continental level, the necessary framework conditions are all in place. However, implementation challenges are being encountered at the RECs and AU Commission levels. Since 2008, in order to address the challenges of implementation, the AU Commission has been implementing the AU Commission Action Plan on Migration.

A significant contribution of Africa to international law, the Kampala Convention propels Africa to the forefront of international norm-setting. It responds to a widely held consensus that IDPs have been the most neglected of vulnerable groups without specific, sufficient and effective legal protection in international law, while other similar categories such as refugees have been receiving protection and assistance. The Convention aims to address the legal and institutional protection gap in regional governance of internal displacement.

The AU norms aims at ensuring that migration is voluntary and legal. Migration needs to be voluntary to ensure that persons are not forced to flee due to push factors. States, accordingly, have the duty to ensure that people are not compelled to migrate when possible by eliminating, and when necessary preventing all push factors. Migration must be legal because migrants need to respect the laws of the country to which they migrate and would accordingly be accorded protection.


IGAD Normative and Institutional Framework on Migration

IGAD initiatives and interventions on migration have been based on the Agreement establishing the IGAD. The Agreement prioritizes the creation of an enabling environment for the free movement of Persons. Among the aims and objectives of IGAD under Article 7 of the Agreement is the promotion of free movement of goods, services, and people and the establishment of residence. More specifically, Article 13 (A) concerning Areas of Cooperation identifies a number of key items that provide the required framework for IGAD in pursuit of regional economic integration namely: facilitating the free movement and right of residence of their nationals in the region; and promoting social and cultural exchanges as an effective means of consolidating regional cooperation and understanding.

IGAD-Regional Migration Policy Framework

Since 2009, IGAD has been actively engaged with the migration agenda. The core IGAD normative instrument on migration is the IGAD’s Regional Migration Policy Framework.[9] As a framework it focuses on measures to strengthen the normative, institutional and collaborative frameworks for managing migration in the region. It provides a comprehensive and integrated policy guideline on the following thematic issues and in relation to migration: a) Labor migration, b) Border Management, c) Irregular Migration, d) Forced Displacement, e) Human Rights of Migrants, f) Internal Migration, g) Migration Data, h) Migration and Development, and i) Inter-State co-operation and partnerships. It also highlights other social ramifications of migration including migration and health, environment, gender, conflict etc. Furthermore, it advances specific recommendations for MSs to adapt and implement.

IGAD Minimum Integration Plan (MIP)

The IGAD has also developed a Minimum Integration Plan (MIP) in the IGAD region with its correspondent Free Trade Agreement. This is a continental AUC programme that all the RECs are required to implement. Furthermore, with COMESA and EAC, IGAD has been implementing the Regional Political Integration and Human Security Support Programme (RPIHSSP) hosted at IGAD Secretariat in Djibouti.

Draft Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons

IGAD does not have a free movement regime. Currently, free movement of persons in the IGAD region is being implemented among the member states at the bilateral level and it is not harmonized at the regional level. Since, July 2010, Kenya and Uganda have signed the East African Community Common Market Protocol on the free movement of persons. An extraordinary example of political will in a region troubled by mutually assured destabilisation, for over four decades, Ethiopia and Kenya, have waived visa requirements for the nationals of the other state. Ethiopia and Djibouti have a similar bilateral agreement. However, MSs are lukewarm about implementing more robust agreed upon protocol. Restrictive travel and visa requirements are still imposed on some of the nationals of other member states.

With the overall objective of progressively eliminating obstacles to the movement of persons into and within the region, in April 2012, IGAD has developed and presented a Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons for MSs to consider.[10] Gradually, the protocol aims to grant both permanent and temporary residence and the right to work in the other IGAD MSs. Drawing heavily on the experiences of the other RECs, IGAD aims at developing a Progressive Implementation Plan within a specific timeframe; and a model national law for the ratification and domestication of the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons.

Challenges in Migration Governance

Despite the presence of normative frameworks, governance of migration faces several challenges. Some of the challenges are related to the fact that governments in the region perceive migration as a threat and a problem. They also perceive migration as a consequence of extreme poverty and hence assume that declining levels of poverty will reduce migration and mobility via unsafe routes. Nevertheless, mobility may increase with more disposable income.

In a bare outline style, the challenges related to migration can be divided into the following six categories: Urgency gap related to the low level of urgency and importance accorded to migration at the national level in IGAD; Policy-Implementation gap referring to the low level of implementation of the well crafted AU and IGAD policy documents; Comprehensiveness gap related to the current fragmented and ad hoc approach to migration governance; Knowledge gap related to limitations in understanding the complexity, determinants and trends of migration and on how to govern migration, Capability gap attributed to the meagre resources allocated to migration governance and institutional inadequacies, Collaboration gap related to the cross-cutting nature of migration that involves several national and regional authorities with mandate on foreign affairs, security, border, customs, social and labour, tourism, immigration, and gender etc and associated challenges.


No region in the world is more familiar with the negative effects of forced migration. The IGAD region exhibits more displacement than mobility; there are three times more  IDPs than refugees, and more importantly it hosts and produces more refugees and IDPs than anywhere else in the world. This makes the IGAD region a key player in providing assistance in kind and protection to displaced persons.  With political will, policy clarity and resources, IGAD MSs, constituting the largest source and host of migrants including forced migrants, could play a vital role in harnessing the benefits of and tackling the harms associated with migration.

Over time migration and implications and impact will deepen. However, migration is not yet a top priority for countries in IGAD region. Border and migration management regimes are weak, under staffed, ill equipped and regional technical cooperation is minimal; borders are porous and will remain the same for some years (even decades) to come.  If states are prepared, migration’s developmental contribution could be harnessed, while its harms decreased and mitigated. If not, we will see more death, xenophobic attacks and massive deportation of migrants and quarrels between countries of destination, transit and origin.

Switch attention from norm-setting to norm-implementation

Since its establishment, the IGAD, like AU, has focused on norm-setting and, to some extent, on norm-diffusion. While these developments in policy frameworks mark a high level of achievement for the IGAD, the success in the norm-setting sphere needs to be matched by efforts to effectively implement the norms.

Invest on the game changers in migration governance: states and local communities

Game changers in migration governance are states and local authorities and communities.  Thus, IGAD needs to move one level down and coordinate joint activities with member states and the IGAD Action Plan (2013) on Migration (IMAP)[11] provides detailed guide for this shift of mission.

Shift from ad hoc and fragmented approach to comprehensive national normative, institutional and collaborative framework

A serious challenge in the management of migration in the region concerns the lack of normative, institutional and collaborative framework on migration at the national level. With the exception of Uganda, countries in the IGAD region lack a comprehensive national policy on migration. Some states have laws governing aspects of migration particularly criminal laws governing human trafficking. And others have policies governing IDPs and labour migration. Uganda and Kenya are working to adopt a policy on migration.[12]

IGAD and the AU Priority: Conduct National Consultative Conferences

IGAD and the AU need to conduct National Consultative Conferences (NCCs) for each selected member state for being largest producers or host of migrants collaboratively with governments concerned and gradually covering all MSs. The NCCs will offer unique opportunities to foster greater understanding, policy coherence, and cooperation for effective responses in migration management. More crucially, the NCCs will also allow the identification of national priorities peculiar to specific countries and drivers of the migration and mobility agenda. They can also serve as a forum to facilitate the establishment of national inter-ministerial taskforces or coordinating mechanisms on relevant migration issues.

Mehari Tadelle Maru, former African Union Coordinator for Migration, Dr. Maru is a member of the AU High Advisory Group. A specialist in human rights and humanitarian law, he is an international consultant and strategist on peace and security, management and policy as well as migration. He can be reached at



[1] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Data on International Migration, available from (accessed 22 August 2014).

[2] Mehari Taddele Maru (2014) The Kampala Convention and Its Contributions to International Law: Legal Analyses and Interpretations of the African Union Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons, Eleven International Publishers, The Hague, available from (accessed 12 August 2015).

[3] UNHCR Global Trends 2014, A Year of Crises, available from (accessed 27 July 2015).

[4] UNHCR Global Trends 2014, A Year of Crises, available from  (accessed 22 August 2015).

[5] IDMC, Latest Update of IDPs (by May 2015), available from (accessed 22 August 2015).

[6] Ibid.

[7] UNHCR Global Trends 2014, A Year of Crises, available from (accessed 22 August 2015).

[8] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Data on International Migration, available from (accessed 22 August 2014).

[9] See IGAD- Regional Migration Policy Framework, available from (accessed 22 August 2015).

[10] Final Report Validation Workshop of The Study on The Development of the IGAD Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, 4th -5th April 2012, Nairobi, Kenya; and Final Conclusions and Recommendations Validation Workshop of The Study on the Development of The IGAD Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, 4th -5th April 2012.

[11] IGAD Migration Action Plan, available from (accessed 22 August 2015).

[12]  IGAD, Migration and Human Security in the ESA Region, the state of play on Mechanisms and Gaps, A Baseline Survey Report, TCH, February 2012.

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