Why are “they” said to “journey from the east,” especially considering that that place is already rather far east among the Table of Nations (Gen 11:2)?

First, considering that humanity was not “scattered” yet, and that there was some good reason to believe that they all lived, as it were in an extended family or tribe, near one another, we have a few possibilities. Without reviewing them all, I will say simply that I am inclined to follow the NASB, which says the word (מִקֶּ֑דֶם, miqqedem) is not from the east but rather to the east, or as the NIV puts it, “eastward.” The implication in any event is that the tribe was moving “eastward”—actually, in all probability, south-eastward, following the Euphrates—perhaps in search of better farmland and grazing. Moving eastward toward Babylon, as the Israelite exiles did, would have been highly symbolic and meaningful for later readers; see comments above on 2:8 and 3:24.