Somalia is a country of origin, destination, transit and return for a large number of people moving across the Horn of Africa region and beyond. Somalis have fled the country in large numbers since the late 1960s as a result of war, poverty and a lack of freedom. Protracted conflict and the absence of a functioning government have produced a diaspora of between 1 and 1.5 million people.
The Somali civil war (1987–1991) resulted in the mass displacement of Somalis both within the country (100,000) and within the region (500,000 in Ethiopia). With increased stability resulting from the UN intervention from 1992 to 1995, an estimated 200,000 returned during that period. Subsequently, between 2009 and 2011, Al-Shabaab operations and widespread drought in southern Somalia have seen an estimated 297,000 Somalis flee to neighbouring countries. The establishment of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have led to a degree of stability.
Despite recent developments, though, an estimated 65 per cent of young Somalis consider migration a viable option, given the lack of employment and livelihood opportunities. Although pockets of stability are developing and moderate growth has returned, this has yet to translate into betterment for the population. Moderate growth witnessed since 2011 is not considered enough to address poverty or inequality.
Migration trends from Somalia are unlikely to change in the short and medium term. Migration from the country is driven by limited employment and livelihood opportunities; conflict; the suppression of political, economic and social rights; and climatic events.
All regions experience outmigration of refugees and migrants, although more people leave south central Somalia. Puntland and Somaliland also experience large transit migration flows of Ethiopians and others crossing from the Horn of Africa to Yemen. People from south central Somalia are usually granted some form of protection, such as refugee status or subsidiary protection.
Migrants tend to be young (under 25 years). It appears slightly more men make up migration flows, although data vary. Nomadic and semi-nomadic cross-border movement has long been a survival strategy for pastoralists and agro-pastoralists. Minority clans are more likely to experience forced displacement.
With the historic absence of central authority within Somalia, attempts to limit migration have been isolated. This will remain particularly challenging given weak state capacity and a scarcity of resources.
Unless the root causes of migration are addressed—namely, limited employment opportunities and persistent conflict—migration flows from Somalia are not likely to decrease in the near future.
Development assistance focused on the rehabilitation of public institutions that can generate public goods and services will be an enabler of long-term economic development. Continued international engagement with Somalia, both financially and diplomatically, appears essential to address economic decline and regional instability.