Will job for Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia stop the influx to Europe?


Last year, the World Bank teamed up with the United Kingdom and European Union to devise a new approach to the migrant crisis in Ethiopia. The Horn of Africa nation is home to more than 160,000 refugees from Eritrea but this doesn’t count for the tens of thousands who have moved on to Europe after arriving there.

Eritrea is the seventh largest contributor of asylum seekers arriving in Europe, according to UNHCR. Neighbouring country Ethiopia is the first stop for most but many arrive with plans for a much longer journey. Europe is the end goal for a large portion of Eritrean refugees who cross the border into Ethiopia, which is where the plan devised by the World Bank, UK and EU comes in.

They hope that by creating jobs for Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia, they can reduce the flow coming into Europe. Supporters of the plan say it will give Eritreans more incentive to stay in Ethiopia while boosting the country’s economy at the same time. But will the promise of work – at least for some – be enough to keep Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia?


30,000 jobs for refugees

The $500m multinational plan, which will be jointly managed by the World Bank, UK and EU, will create 100,000 jobs in Ethiopia. As part of the plan, the government is expected to grant employment rights to 30,000 refugees. The idea is to provide a significant group of refugees with work in Ethiopia while stimulating the country’s economy and also creating jobs for Ethiopian nationals.

Ethiopia is the largest refugee-hosting nation in Africa with almost 800,000 registered refugees from various countries.


Which means 30,000 jobs account for less than 4% of all the refugees currently registered in Ethiopia. And, once again, this doesn’t count for those who leave Ethiopia in search of a new life in Europe.

In fairness, the organisations behind the programme aren’t pretending it’ll magically solve the global migrant crisis; they’re hoping it will help slow down the flow into Europe.

The problem is, the drive of Eritrean refugees to Europe is about far more than a lack of job opportunities in Ethiopia.


Why do so many Eritreans flee?

For a country with a population of less than 5.5 million, Eritrea’s status as the seventh largest source of refugees arriving in Europe is incredible. The Eritrean government denies the figures provided by UNHCR and other organisations, claiming as many as 60% of those refugees are actually from Ethiopia and other Horn of Africa nations.

Information Minister Yemane Gebre Meskel told the BBC:

“The numbers of Eritreans leaving the country is much inflated; by most accounts 40 to 60% are from Ethiopia and/or other countries in the Horn.”

For the refugees who make it out alive, there’s one common reason for their departure: conscription. The Eritrean government forces its citizens to join the national army as part of a military service that can last for decades. Many die long before completing their service.

In 2015, European countries received 30,000 requests for asylum from Eritrean refugees. Funnily enough, that’s precisely the same number of jobs that are supposed to be reserved for refugee in Ethiopia in the new scheme orchestrated by the EU, UK and Word Bank.

Source: Eurostat, Openmigration.org

Interestingly, Italy serves as the first point of arrival for most of the Eritrean refugees who make it to Europe, but the vast majority continue their journey to other nations on the continent.


Why do Eritreans continue their journey from Ethiopia?

This is the key question when you’re trying to assess whether creating jobs will stem the flow of Eritrean refugees into Europe. Ethiopia’s refugee policy means Eritreans are largely free to enter the country but it doesn’t provide any real system for employment. Some are able to secure unofficial work but many of the people arriving from Eritrea are qualified professionals with skills to offer.

Observers say, the scheme to create jobs in Ethiopia will require law changes and there are other projects in the works, designed to help provide better opportunities for refugees in Ethiopia. There are plans for 20,000 refugee households to be given land so they can farm. There are 13,000 Somali refugees being integrated into the eastern city of Jijiga with resident and work permits. There are genuine efforts being made it seems.

Yet many Eritreans remain pessimistic about their futures in Ethiopia.

“If Ethiopia feels for refugees, why doesn’t it change the law so they can work,” one refugee told IRIN News. “It’s a free prison here. We are free to stay, but with no hope or future.”

Another refugee from Congo said: “Refugees in Ethiopia is a business. That’s what needs to be addressed.

“If you want to solve the refugee problem, you need to deal with the real cause of refugees, which is African leaders – but [foreign donors] are providing them with more money.”


Featured image: By Irish Defence Forces – https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfmagazine/18898637736/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41045858

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.