Sudan Dossier: The State of Horn of Africa Migration During the Sudan War

April 22nd, 2024 - written by: Adam Babiker

###Übersetzung auf Deutsch hier###


Migration has been a part of Africa's history for centuries, but the reasons for contemporary migration are different. Nowadays, people move due to political instability, economic and social crises, droughts, famines, and environmental degradation. Since African countries gained independence, refugees have been a significant part of African politics and continue to be a reason why people leave their homes. The greater Horn of Africa has had a particularly high number of refugees due to constant conflicts.

Sudan has faced migration challenges as it is a country that has people moving in, out, and through it. It is a country of origin, transit, or final destination for many migrants and refugees from West and Horn of Africa countries. Sudan has historically welcomed migrants and refugees, which has made it a popular destination for people seeking a new home.

Sudan as a Destination for Refugee and Migrant Laborers:

It's important to note that before the conflict erupted in Khartoum, Sudan was hosting around 1,145 refugees and asylum seekers from various countries such as South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen. These people were hosted in different Sudanese states including Eastern Sudan (Red Sea, Kassala, Gedaref), White Nile State, Khartoum, and South and West Kordofan States. Eastern Sudan, historically, has one of the longest refugee situations in the world, beginning with the first influx of Eritrean refugees over 50 years ago. Most of the refugees and immigrants from Horn Africa were used to working in Sudan in temporary jobs such as agricultural labor, tea making, waiters, and homekeepers, and some of them owned 'Tok-tok or Bajaj' (a motorcycle that has three wheels). It's worth noting that the refugees and immigrants from Horn Africa were already living in Sudan before the war, either through getting licenses from Sudanese authorities or illegally. It's worth mentioning that migrants who do not obtain work licenses from Sudanese authorities become victims of harassment and arbitrary detention by Sudanese authorities who aim to crack down on irregular migration.

Since South Sudan gained its independence, there has been an increase in the number of Ethiopian Seasonal Labor Migrants (SLM) moving to Eastern Sudan (Gedaref State). Unofficial estimates suggest that over 600,000 Ethiopians are crossing the border into Sudan annually to work as seasonal laborers in agricultural farms in Gedaref State. However, official statistics and information about these seasonal workers are lacking. Some unofficial records report that there is a demand for labor estimated at 648,000 workers in one season, but currently, there are only around 216,000 workers available within Gadaref state, mostly family labor and local workers. As a result, there is a forecasted gap of 432,000 workers that needs to be filled from outside Gadaref State or abroad.[1]

The presence of Ethiopian seasonal labor migrants (SLM) in Gadaref State, Eastern Sudan has become a significant source of employment for hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian youths from the Amhara and Tigray Regions. This has led to economic integration between Sudan and Ethiopia, which has contributed to peace along the border, enhanced people-to-people relations, and minimized security threats among border communities in both countries.

Transit-Hub Sudan

Many migration studies conducted in the Greater Horn of Africa have pointed out that Sudan is the primary crossing point for emigrants from the region. Migrants from the Horn countries cross the Sudanese border and stay in Sudan for some time before they move on to Europe, Gulf Countries, and Israel. The states of Khartoum and Eastern Sudan are also considered transit hubs for migrants from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia, with many Sudanese hoping to make their way to Europe.

Reports by the Sudan Ministry of Interior indicate that some migrants from the Horn countries crossing the Sudanese border remain in Sudan whereas the remaining others of them migrate to Europe and Israel. Many of the immigrants cross illegally, and in some cases involuntarily move across the borders. Also, reports from the Sudanese police in recent years show that hundreds of tips were received about victims who were smuggled across the border and other forms of human trafficking. The Horn of Africa is a key source area for illegal migration, smuggling, and human trafficking. This poses a serious problem for the people of the region, as it puts vulnerable individuals at risk of exploitation and abuse. The Eastern Sudan border is particularly difficult to control, as per the Ministry of Interior reports. The migration process in the region is very much interconnected. The route from Ethiopia to the Sudan is not only used by the Ethiopians but also by Eritreans and Somalians. The Ethiopian-Sudanese border, which spans four Sudanese states; Kassala, Gadarif, Sinnar, and Blue Nile, and three regions on the Ethiopian side Tigray, Amhara, and Beni Shanghul region, the thing that played a very permissive role in border crossings. Besides, there are no natural barriers on the border between the two countries. It is generally believed that the majority of migrants cross the border through Eastern Sudan (Gadarif State and Kassala State), which has the longest border with Ethiopia. Eastern Sudan and Khartoum are considered the main states that serve as feeders for booming human trafficking activities in migrants from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan, many of whom hoping to make their way to Europe and for whom Sudan is just a transit zone on their way to Europe. This route forces migrants to cross rivers, large deserts, and finally the ocean.

The European Union (EU) has been working with Sudan to manage migration from the Horn of Africa to Libya and Egypt through the 'Better Migration Management (Khartoum Process)' project for many years. The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) were responsible for patrolling Sudan's borders with Libya and Egypt, which was a key area for illegal immigration. This meant that they were in direct contact with migrants and smugglers, and their duties included arresting those who crossed the border illegally and bringing them to justice. By managing the Sudanese-Libyan border, the RSF became one of the key actors involved in managing immigration. The leaders of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have made statements indicating that one of their responsibilities is to manage migration in the region. By carrying out this task, the RSF aims to establish itself as a legitimate partner for national, regional, and international migration management issues. However, some have accused the European Union (EU) of financing the RSF, despite the EU's repeated denials of such support.[2]


Source: Sudan Humanitarian Update 23.02.2024

Sudan has achieved an unfortunate record by reaching the top position in an unwanted category

Sudan has been in a state of conflict for one year, which has increased forced migration in the Horn of Africa region. This puts Sudan in the same company as South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, who are also contributing to this unwanted record. The conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) began on April 15th, 2023, in several cities across Sudan, including Khartoum, Merowe, Al Geneina, El Obeid, Nyala, Al Fasher, and Wad Medani. This conflict is still ongoing.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has published a report titled 'The State of Migration in the East and Horn of Africa Report 2022', which states that the region is currently home to 22.3 million displaced persons. This includes 16.9 million internally displaced persons, 5.4 million refugees and asylum seekers, and 4.7 million labor migrant workers.[3]

The conflict in Sudan has resulted in over 8.6 million people being displaced, which accounts for roughly 15% of the total population in the country and 50% of the internally displaced persons in the East and Horn of Africa. The International Organization for Migration Displacement Tracking Matrix (IOM DTM) has revealed that 2 million people have crossed from Sudan, the crisis is severely straining states’ capacities to cope with the inflows of refugees, returnees and third-country nationals. So far, the number of arrivals in the neighbouring countries include 730,550 in Chad, 629,902 in South Sudan, 514,827 in Egypt, 119,525 in Ethiopia, 29,444 in the Central Africa Republic, and 7,620 in Libya.[4]

A new transit hub and a new route that has been established

Since April 15th, 2023, a conflict has caused refugees in Sudan and millions of Sudanese to be forcibly displaced within the country and beyond its borders. Some of them have been displaced multiple times within Sudan (from Khartoum State to Gezira State and then to other destinations) and to some extent, out of the country (from Sudan to Ethiopia or Egypt and then to other destinations) to find safer areas. However, prior the war Sudanese, Somalian, Ethiopians, and Eritreans hope to make their way to Europe. Many of these migrants enter Khartoum as a transit point to Europe through the route from Khartoum to Libya. This route requires them to cross large rivers, deserts, and finally, the ocean.

Due to the ongoing war, Khartoum is no longer a safe transit route for migrants. As a result, Atbara, the capital of Nile River State, along with Abu Hamad and Aldabbah cities located in Northern Sudan, have become major new hubs of transit for migrants seeking to travel to Egypt or Libya illegally. Smugglers from these three countries have joined forces to provide transport services for the migrants via desert routes. However, taking these informal routes can be risky and put migrants at a higher risk of being exploited or trafficked. Despite these dangers, a large number of migrants have opted to cross informally or follow risky routes to bypass Egyptian or Libyan immigration authorities and reach their intended destinations.

The White Nile State has become a new center for migrants instead of Khartoum State. According to the governor of White Nile State, the state currently hosts more than 1.5 million refugees, out of which approximately 600,000 are registered South Sudanese refugees living in ten different camps. Additionally, there are around 400,000 unregistered refugees in the state, and another 450000 unregistered refugees are living in nearby cities and villages.[5]

A shortage of Ethiopian Seasonal Labor Migrants (SLM)

The number of Ethiopian Seasonal Labor Migrants (SLM) in the Gedaref labor market has significantly reduced since mid-December 2023. This change in the labor force and farm laborers' structure may have been caused by the fall of Wad Medani in RSF, or the conflict that began in Algazera State. Prior to these events, the market labor force was predominantly made up of Ethiopian SLM, who continued to migrate from Ethiopia to Sudan. However, since the security situation in the country has deteriorated, many Ethiopian SLM and migrants from South Sudan have been forced to reduce their seasonal journey to Eastern Sudan (Gedaref State). Despite this reduction, some Ethiopian SLM continues to cross the border into Sudan un officially way .

A farmer from Gedaref State has confirmed that the current security situation in Sudan has caused a shortage of Ethiopian seasonal labor migrants who used to work in Gedaref State. Due to their absence, some farmers are facing difficulty in harvesting cotton. The skilled Ethiopian workers are missed, and there is a concern that some farmers will not be able to harvest the crop before the rainy season arrives.[6]

The war is making the living conditions of refugees in the camps even worse

Refugees at the camps are typically provided with four food items - flour, oil, salt, and lentils - by relief organizations. To cover their other basic needs, refugees rely on the wages earned through their work.

A leader among the refugees in the Gedaref camps has stated that the Sudanese war has harmed the livelihoods of the refugees. He added that prior to the outbreak of war in Sudan, a significant number of young refugees, both male and female, migrated from the camp to Khartoum, Madani, and various agricultural farms in Gedaref State to work and earn a living. This income helped them meet their basic needs, which they could no longer obtain from relief organizations. Unfortunately, the ongoing war has deprived these young refugees of such opportunities to earn a living.[7]

The migration policies of Sudan have been changed

Sudan's migration policies have been changed due to the war. However, these policies have become more restrictive and difficult for migrants and refugees from Horn of Africa countries to enter, transit or stay legally or illegally in Sudan. These changes have created new pressures for refugees and migrants in Sudan, which will alter their experiences and aspirations for years to come.

From 26-28 March 2024, a workshop took place in Port Sudan to discuss controlling foreign presence and reviewing Sudanese identity. The workshop was organized due to the participation of some migrants in the ongoing war within the ranks of the militia RSF, through acts of sabotage and attacks on public and private property in Khartoum State, as well as some migrants participating in intelligence work and carrying weapons according to the Ministry of Interior, Sudan. At the end of the workshop, a set of legal measures were announced to control unregulated foreign presence.[8]

One of the recent changes in Sudan's immigration policies includes emergency decisions regarding the movement of foreigners into the Northern State. The Northern State Governor has issued a decision that prohibits travel buses, and public and private vehicles from transporting any foreign passenger or citizen who does not have a national number or identification papers into the Northern State. The order will be effective within the geographical borders of the state starting from April 21st, 2024. The emergency order authorizes regular forces and the prosecution to enforce the return of violating passengers to their departure station.[9]

This decision is likely to impact the movement of immigrants in the state. Following the war, the state became a crossing point for immigrants from the Horn of Africa en route to Egypt and Libya. Additionally, it serves as a destination for immigrants who work in gold mining mines.

Also it has been observed that the ongoing war in Sudan has halted most of the Sudanese migration policies, which were aimed at managing onward migration through national policies such as work permits and business restrictions, EU-driven policies like the Better Migration Management Programme (BMM), and other multilateral incentives such as the Khartoum Process. Additionally, the collaborative efforts related to cross-border issues such as migration, trade, and security at both national and state levels between Sudan and Ethiopia have come to a standstill due to the ongoing war in Sudan.

The implications of the war on neighboring countries

Since the conflict in Sudan began in mid-April 2023, a significant number of civilians have been forced to flee, including refugees from countries in the Horn of Africa who had sought safety in Sudan. More than two millions of people have fled to neighboring countries or returned home in difficult circumstances. The impact of the war on Sudan is significant for its neighboring countries in terms of humanitarian needs and livelihoods for host communities. Especially for South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, the impact is double for their migrants who have lost safe homes and sources of income to survive and continue their journey to Europe.

Way Forward

The most important task to alleviate the suffering of Sudanese civilians, refugees, and migrants is to put an end to the conflict between SAF and RSF. This requires close collaboration and coordination among the following parties:

- All Sudanese institutions and bodies that are committed to a peaceful democratic transition.

- The African Union and IGAD.

- TROIKA member countries.

- The United Nations.

About the Author

Adam Babiker is a researcher on migration issues working at Gedaref University

### Übersetzung auf Deutsch hier ###


  1. 2018 BMM Comprehensive Assessment Report for more information on SLM in Gedaref State, Sudan

  2. Parliamentary question | Answer to Question No E-007564/16 | E-007564/2016(ASW) | European Parliament (

  3. The State of Migration in East and Horn of Africa Report 2022 | IOM Publications Platform


  5. وكالة السودان للأنباء - عمر الخليفة:النيل الأبيض تستضيف أكثر من مليون وخمسمائة ألف لاجيء (

  6. Face to face interviews were conducted with big farmer from Gedaref

  7. Face to face interviews were conducted with an Ethiopian refugees from Gedaref

  8. وكالة السودان للأنباء - الداخلية: تأكيدات على ضبط الوجود الأجنبي ومراجعة الهوية السودانية (

  9. وكالة السودان للأنباء - والي الشمالية يصدر أمر طوارئ يتعلق بنقل الاجانب للولاية (