Understanding Refugees Crisis triggered by the
The Horn of Africa is the eastern projection of the African continent. It lies along the
southern side of the Red Sea and extends along the Gulf of Aden, Somali Sea
and Guardafui Channel. This region consists of the countries
of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. It covers approximately two million
square kilometres and is inhabited by roughly 115 million people (Ethiopia:
96.6 million, Somalia: 15.4 million, Eritrea: 6.4 million, and Djibouti: 0.81 million).
This informative report will highlight the crisis that the refugees are living in this
region due to the Tigray conflict (an area situated in the
northernmost region of Ethiopia). Since Sudan is also bordering Tigray, this report
would include it as one of the largely affected states by the crisis in the region.
In fact, the complexity of the situation in Ethiopia, have disturbed the entire region by
disrupting communication and increasing the scale of the refugee flows towards
borders. Currently many refugees remain in overcrowded conditions without proper
facilities and there continues to be a shortage of medicines, food and other vital
supplies. A huge demand for family tracing and reunification, education and child
friendly spaces, and nutritional programmes adds further challenges to this growing
The crisis started escalating since 4 November 2020 when the Office of the Ethiopian
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of
an unprovoked attack on the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) Northern
Command. In response the Prime Minister announced a military offensive, termed a
Rule of Law Operation, against the TPLF in Tigray. The military confrontations
between federal and regional forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, led the Government
to declare a State of Emergency, electricity, telephone and Internet services were
subsequently shut down. Since then, and despite the announcement of an official end
to military operations at the end of November, Tigray region has continued to be
affected by armed clashes and insecurity.
Situation in Ethiopia
Since before the crisis, Ethiopia has been the third largest refugee-hosting country in
Africa, sheltering 797,191 registered refugees and asylum-seekers. The overwhelming
majority originate from South Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea.
The population in the Tigray region of Ethiopia included around 96,000 registered
Eritrean refugees, 100,000 Ethiopian internally displaced persons (IDPs), and about
500,000 people dependent on food relief assistance. In addition, 1 million people
received safety net assistance.
The conflict has threatened the safety and security of all civilians in Tigray including
Eritrean refugees located in four camps there, who were completely reliant on
assistance. For almost two decades Ethiopia has been a hospitable country for Eritrean
refugees but now they are caught up in the conflict zone and are in desperate need of
humanitarian assistance and services. Unlike the host population, most of Eritreans do
not have the right to work and also do not have the option to relocate to other parts of
the country. Given the nature of the conflict they are at risk of being further
discriminated, and even targeted by armed groups.
UNHCR keeps appealing to the government of Ethiopia to continue to fulfil its
responsibility in hosting and protecting Eritrean refugees and allow humanitarians to
Refugees in Sudan
Since the beginning of the conflict, more than 50,000 people have fled Ethiopia into
east Sudan in search of safety. Throughout the peak of the influx, more than 1,000
people on average were arriving daily, an influx unseen over the last two decades in
this part of the country. Refugees have been arriving at distant border points that take
hours to reach from the nearest towns in east Sudan. Many of them are women and
children. Most left with barely any belongings and arrived exhausted from walking
long distances over rough roads.
The UNHCR estimates that 100,000 refugees will be arriving to East Sudan by June
2021. A worst-case scenario foresees the arrival of up to 200,000 refugees. This
number mainly includes Ethiopians and a smaller number of Eritrean refugees who
had been living in Tigray.
The new Ethiopian refugee population is 31 % of children. Refugees fled mainly to
two main border points, Lugdi and Hamdayet and other remote locations in Kassala
and Gedaref States.
The large-scale refugee influx adds to the considerable challenges the region is
already facing. Prior to this crisis, East Sudan already hosted over 133,000 refugees,
most from Eritrea, living in nine camps and urban areas. Sudan is also facing severe
economic difficulties, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021
Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) estimates over 12.7 million people in need, an
increase of a third compared to 2020. One million of the people in need in Sudan are
Refugees in Eriteria
Given the familial, cultural and language links between the Eritrean and Ethiopian
Tigrayans, it is expected that some Ethiopian Tigrayans living near the border might
cross into Eritrea to escape the conflict. Some Eritrean refugees residing in Tigray
may also return home to evade the conflict. The Refugee Preparedness and
Contingency Plan in Eritrea estimates 5,000 to10, 000 potential refugee arrivals from
The most likely entry points for refugees include Senafe-Zalambessa and various
informal crossing points along the border, between Lalay Gash sub-zoba to the West
and Ghelaelo sub-zoba to the East. There is also a possibility of some movements into
Eritrea at Um Hajer to the West, as well as through the Afar region into Southern Red
Refugees in Djibouti
The Refugee Preparedness and Response Plan expects 5,000 potential refugee arrivals
to Djibouti from Ethiopia due to the situation in Tigray. This number will be added to
Ethiopians already transiting through Djibouti who may not be able to return to
Ethiopia in the near term. Given the close commercial ties between Djibouti and
Ethiopia, thousands of Tigrayan merchants and truck drivers could become stranded
in Djibouti if the crisis further escalates. There are also considerable numbers of
Ethiopian migrants who arrived in Djibouti after returning from Saudi Arabia and
Yemen. Those who are no longer able to return home due to the ongoing conflict in
Ethiopia may apply for recognition of refugee status to be considered as “refugees sur
place” in Djibouti.
It is expected that most new arrivals will be Tigrayans residing in neighbouring
regions of Ethiopia (i.e Afar, Dire Dawa and Somali regions), fleeing persecution
and/or security issues. The other profile of Ethiopian refugees is anticipated to be
migrants seeking asylum because of inability to return home due to the conflict.
In Djibouti, the main border points Galafi, Balho and Guelile are located in areas with
weak infrastructure, lack of social services and very dry and hot climate. The
Government of Djibouti has therefore decided that following reception and
registration (including the identification of persons with specific needs) at border
points, the refugees will be transferred after a maximum of 72 hours to the refugee
village of Holl Holl, which has a capacity to accommodate 5,000 additional refugees.
In general, refugees in Djibouti co-exist peacefully with the host communities.
Refugees and asylum-seekers in Djibouti are a diverse population in terms of
nationality, culture, socio-economic background and language. Ethiopians currently
represent 33% of the refugee population in Djibouti. The refugee villages at Ali
Addeh and Holl Holl are much larger in terms of population than the nearby host
The refugee villages are located in regions facing harsh weather conditions, coupled
with poor infrastructure, and limited access to services, livelihood opportunities and a
high level of poverty. Host communities struggle with the same challenges and multi
sectorial assistance is aimed at supporting both populations.
Some 2.6 million people are currently displaced inside, mainly due to conflict and
increasingly due to climate-related shocks such as severe droughts and flooding.
The world’s vulnerable face some of the worst effects of climate change, including
food, water, and land insecurity, and disrupted services necessary for human health,
livelihood, settlement, and survival.
The UNHCR-led Protection Return Monitoring Network (PRMN) in Somalia has
recorded nearly 1.3 million new displacements so far this year, more than 70 % of
which were driven by flooding. Thousands of people in Somalia’s Puntland region
have been impacted by Cyclone Gati, the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded in
the east African country. Gati made landfall on 22 November in Puntland’s Bari
region, bringing around two years of rainfall in a just a few days and affecting over
180,000 people, of which some 42,000 were displaced from their homes.
Over the last three and half decades, Somalia has experienced 15 tropical storms and
cyclones together with flash floods. Extreme weather events are part of a global
pattern of stronger storms caused by climate change and warmer ocean temperatures.
In Somalia, Cyclone Gati is resulting in a humanitarian emergency on top of existing
emergencies in a country grappling with conflict, the coronavirus pandemic and
desert locusts, making this an exceptionally difficult year for those displaced in
In total there are 8,756,297 IDP in the East and Horn of Africa. UNHCR together
with 30 humanitarian partners are releasing an urgent appeal for US$156 million to
support refugees fleeing Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis. Aid agencies are dealing with a full-
scale humanitarian emergency in a very remote area that has not seen such a large
refugee influx in decades.
The aid will reach up to 115,000 refugees and 22,000 people from host communities.
It aims to support the governments of Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea in maintaining and
facilitating access to asylum and providing life-saving assistance to those who have
been forced to flee.
UNHCR, ‘The Refugee Preparedness and Response Plan for the Ethiopian situation
(Tigray)’, covers the period from November 2020 through to June 2021.
UNHCR, Fact Sheet Ethiopia/ November 2020.