By Tom Gardner
ADDIS ABABA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A ban on Eritrean
refugees working in Ethiopia is hampering efforts to reduce
illegal “secondary” migration, with tens of thousands risking
violence and drowning in pursuit of a better life, the Overseas
Development Institute said on Thursday.
“Ethiopia is a vital country of asylum, offering the prospect of
freedom and security,” said the British think tank, but it added:
“Refugees are not allowed to work in Ethiopia, making it hard to
build a future in the country.”
Hence, it said, most Eritrean refugees living in Ethiopian camps
wanted to escape to a third country in the hope of winning work,
security and a settled life.
About 5,000 refugees flee Eritrea each month to escape poverty,
political persecution and the prospect of potentially indefinite
Some 155,207 currently live in neighboring Ethiopia, home to
nearly a million refugees – the second largest refugee population
in Africa – thanks to its open-door asylum policy.
But in 2014, 84 percent of Eritreans interviewed in Ethiopia said
they planned on‘moving to another country’, while around
two-thirds pursued so-called secondary migration in 2015,
according to Amnesty International.
“People tend to give life a go in neighboring places – Sudan,
Ethiopia – and only turn to options further afield once they
realize those situations aren’t tenable in practice,” Richard
Mallett, one of the report’s authors, told the Thomson Reuters
Many are then destined for Europe, undeterred by increasingly
restrictive immigration policies, with Eritreans forming the
fifth largest group of irregular arrivals on European shores in
Most crossed from Libya, the most dangerous route over the
Mediterranean, exposed to violence, torture by smugglers, and the
deadly risk of the sea itself, according to a report by Medicins
Sans Frontieres published last month.
According to the ODI report, those who embark on the often
perilous onwards journey from the Horn of Africa do so despite
the promise of comparative freedom and security in Ethiopia, and
the livelihood support policies, such as loan and training
programs, offered by NGOs there.
Because Eritreans are prevented from legally accessing the
Ethiopian labor market — in contravention of the right-to-work
enshrined in the 1951 Geneva Convention — any skills and capital
they acquire through such programs cannot be put to full use, the
report said, causing frustration and hopelessness.
Under Ethiopian law, refugees are prevented from engaging in
formal employment, regardless of whether they live in camps or
cities, though some find casual labor or bend the rules.
The evidence suggests that many people will be more inclined to
stay in Ethiopia if refugee labor rights are enhanced, the report
said, since informal work is often insecure, badly paid, and
exploitative. For women it can mean prostitution.
The World Bank, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and
other international organizations have highlighted the success of
nearby countries, such as Uganda, which offer refugees extensive
It said Ethiopia’s refugee policies were counterproductive.
“The support that is being provided by such programs is for the
most part overshadowed by refugees’ lack of access to decent work
– work that is reliable, adequately paid and that draws on their
skills,” the report said.
(Reporting by Tom Gardner. Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please
credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson
Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights,
trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.
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