By Dr Tamara Wood

Declaring the new report ‘a highly useful document that will certainly go a long way in enhancing our understanding of the complex and dynamic nature of migration in our region,’ Kenya’s President William Ruto on May 2 launched The State of Migration in the East and Horn of Africa.

The inaugural report – produced by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and two of Africa’s major regional blocs, the East African Community (EAC) and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) – urges governments in the region to further develop opportunities for human mobility within efforts towards regional economic integration.

President Ruto commended the report’s ‘astute analysis’ and added: ‘It is our responsibility in this century… to change the roadblocks into stepping stones so that goods, services, ideas and people can move and we can benefit from the myriad of good ideas in different parts of our continent.’ 

He called the report ‘a timely addition to the common knowledge base of policymakers and practitioners in their quest for evidence-based insights to define the formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of public policy in connection with human mobility and human migration’.

He specifically noted the report’s ‘very helpful detail [about] the existential threat of our time, that is, climate change’. 

Kaldor Centre Visiting Fellow Dr Tamara Wood is the lead author for Chapter 6 on ‘Regional Integration, Human Mobility and Climate Change’. Dr Wood collaborated with senior officials from both IOM and UNHCR to develop a suite of recommendations for African governments about incorporating climate mobility into regional forums and frameworks.

The report emphasises the important role that regional frameworks, including regional agreements for the free movement of persons, can play in providing opportunities for communities affected by climate change to move safely and access more sustainable livelihoods. 

At the regional level, smaller groupings of countries with shared experiences and mutual interests provide significant opportunities for jointly addressing the challenges of climate mobility. In East Africa, the 2021 IGAD Free Movement Protocol is pioneering a new approach to climate mobility, with specific provisions allowing disaster-affected communities to seek safety in neighbouring countries and ensuring they will not be sent home until safe.

In 2022, 15 East African government signed the Kampala Ministerial Declaration on Migration, Environment and Climate Change declaring their political commitments to address drivers of mobility such as desertification, land degradation and drought; to support countries hosting migrants and disaster-displaced persons; and to establish an inter-ministerial working group on climate change, environment and migration, to monitor progress.

Regional integration and free movement agreements are not a panacea for the challenges of climate mobility. As President Ruto noted in his remarks, the adverse impacts of climate change, including extreme events, droughts and famine, ‘are direct and indirect drivers of forced human mobility, with potential to set off or escalate conflict’. 

The report emphasises the need for tailored solutions to climate-related displacement. When people are forced to move, rather than moving voluntarily, protection-oriented responses that ensure people’s fundamental human rights are paramount, even if they are not economic development priorities, the report notes. 

The development of evidence-based laws and policies that incorporate climate mobility into regional integration efforts could contribute significant opportunities for people on the move in the context of climate change. President Ruto, who will host the Africa Climate Action Summit in September, said The State of Migration in the East and Horn of Africa report would ensure ‘that the mobility dimensions are well integrated in our efforts to tackle climate change amongst all the other challenges that we face.’

Tamara Wood is a Visiting Fellow at the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law and a Member of the Steering Group for the Climate Mobility Africa Research Network (CMARN).