Migration policy in Ethiopia: Europe's favorite country

Ethiopia is both a country of origin and transit for refugees and migrants. The EU's interest in good cooperation is correspondingly high.

Women mourn during the funeral for victims of the stampede after a police shooting in Oromo Foto: reuters

When Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled to Ethiopia in October 2016, dozens of exiled Ethiopians gathered in front of the building of the EU Commission at the Brandenburg Gate with protest banners. „The support of dictators in Ethiopia does not lead to an improvement in living conditions, but promotes flight and crimes against humanity,“ said Seyoum Habtemariam, chairman of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission in Germany.

Merkel's visit to Ethiopia's capital Adis Abeba came at a very bad time. Only a few days before, hundreds of participants were murdered in the village of Bishoftu, south of the capital, at the traditional Thanksgiving of the Oromo People. Parts of the regions populated by Oromo and Amharen have been in turmoil since 2015 against the central government. What began there as a local outrage over governmental landgrabbing had extended to a coordinated protest movement that called for the overthrow of the government. Already in August 2016, more than a hundred people had been killed in mass protests in several cities. One day before Merkel's visit, the state of emergency was imposed on the country, the Internet and the social networks were switched off. Europe's favorite country showed the face of a repressive regime.

Taking this into account, the Chancellor, at her meeting with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, warned that „a lively civil society is an essential part of a developing country“. In the same breath, she promised the training of national police forces, who were overwhelmed with insurrections, and the support of a dialogue between the people in the conflict regions. Then she cut through the band to celebrate the inauguration of the newly-finished headquarters of the Security Council of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa. Germany had financed the construction with 27 million euros – as a measure of “regional stabilization“.

Ethiopia has hitherto accommodated most of the refugees on the continent, well over 700,000, most of them from Somalia and South Sudan. According to the law, the refugees must live in one of the 24 refugee camps, which are run by the national refugee agency (ARRA) together with the UN refugee aid agency (UNHCR). The two largest camps with more than 200,000 people are located in the south of the country: Gembella on the border with South Sudan, Dollo Ado near the border with Somalia. In the north, the Shire camp houses more than 100,000 refugees on the Eritrean border. Only around 7,000 refugees received an exception permit due to security or health problems in 2015 in cities such as Adis Ababa.

Transit and country of origin

Because of extreme drought in the deserts of the South, as well as ethnic conflicts and border disputes, the country lives around 800,000 internally displaced, most of them in camps. Human rights organizations report the violent expulsions of ethnic minorities by the government, especially in the South, where huge land is being built for agriculture or dams are built to increase food production, which is so important to hunger-stricken land.Ethiopia is a transit country for refugees from South Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea, but also for African migrant workers on their way to the Arabian Peninsula. At the same time, the repressive regime itself generates more and more refugees: over one million of the roughly 90 million Ethiopians are seeking refuge in exile. Many travel south, especially to Kenya. Some move to Tanzania and even to South Africa. But there they are now threatened with arrest, since they have no work permit.Most migrant workers, about 80 percent, have moved eastwards to the Arabian Peninsula, especially to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, where African men work on construction sites and women are hired as childminders. Ethiopia's government has banned all attempts to recruit workers from the Arab world in Ethiopia until 2013.The extent to which the labor migration of Ethiopians to the Arabian Peninsula is so far is only to be expected. After Saudi Arabia announced to deport Ethiopians in 2014, regional analysts with around 20,000 returnees, Bram Frouws recalls from the regional think tanks RMMS, which systematically records migration data on the Gulf of Aden. Deported were ultimately 250,000, Frouws said.

Variable escape routes

Even after the war broke out in Yemen in 2015, the numbers are steadily increasing: from the 120,000 migrants arriving in Yemen in 2016, 85% of Ethiopians were, according to Frouws. Significant is the recent increase in Oromo's share among the Ethiopian migrants after the brutal suppression of protests in October 2016. In November, 98% of the arriving Ethiopians belonged to the Oromo ethnic group. In the course of a voluntary return initiative, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) saved more than 600 migrants, most of the Ethiopians, from Yemen's war riots and took them to Djibouti. In October 2016, more than a thousand Ethiopians escaped from a detention center in South Yemen with the help of a prison guard.

The escape routes beyond the Ethiopian border are becoming increasingly dangerous. The massacre of the Islamic state ISIS has spread to 30 Ethiopian migrants in Libya in 2015. They had left their homeland via the northern border post Metema, a collection point for smugglers. The government in Addis then closed the border crossing, arrested some 200 suspected human smugglers. RMMS surveys on the migration routes show how „the smugglers and tugs react quickly to changes in the migration routes and how well they are equipped, mostly with satellite telephones,“ says Frouws. The RMMS recently reported that more Ethiopians and Eritreans flee across Darfur and across Chad to Libya in order to bypass the border patrols of Sudan that have been upgraded, he says.

According to the EU, more than 3,500 Ethiopians are irregularly submitted to Europe in 2015. This represents an increase of 175 percent compared to the previous year. Around 6,000 applied for asylum in the EU Member States, around half of them were granted. The UNHCR estimates that about half of the Somali and Eritreans who are receiving asylum in Europe are in fact Ethiopians who indicate false identities so as not to be deported.

So far, Ethiopia has not shown itself particularly cooperative with regard to the return of rejected asylum seekers. The EU strategy paper on negotiating a repatriation agreement speaks of a rate of only 16 per cent. For other countries it is 40 percent.

Charm offensive from the EU

„Ethiopia is a regional heavyweight; It has assumed responsibility for peace and stability in the region in many areas and is an important actor in pan-African questions „- it sounds like this in the Chancellor's Office when the speaker explains the reason for Merkel's journey to Ethiopia.

For the EU, Ethiopia is the most important partner country for migration regulation in Africa alongside Nigeria. As early as November 2015, the EU and Ethiopia signed a joint declaration on the implementation of the Common Agenda for Migration and Mobility (CAMM) at the EU-Africa Migration Summit in Valletta, Malta. The objective is that the EU will help to prevent trafficking in human beings and illegal migration, as well as the provision of relief funds for the purpose of combating the cause of flight.

The EU is committed to supporting Ethiopian border units in regional training programs, to prosecute law enforcement agencies to combat trafficking in human beings and smuggling, to develop biometric data storage of passports, as well as tracking counterfeit detection equipment. Cooperation is particularly important in this area, in order to identify asylum seekers who erroneously turn out to be Somali or Eritreans in order to obtain asylum in the EU, the EU Commission's strategy paper on the negotiations of the repatriation agreements states. Ethiopia's cooperation with Ethiopian authorities is unavoidable. Three months later, 57 cases were given to Addis Ababa.

In the future, there will be an annual meeting in Brussels or Addis to evaluate the progress made in the „Dialogue on Migration and Mobility“, according to the agreement. Ethiopia is committed to accelerating the return process. As helping EU institutions, they explicitly mention Frontex, Europol and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO). A status report from November 2015 states that Ethiopia has already identified cases of potential reimbursement of rejected asylum seekers from the EU, a procedure has been established. However, the sending of an EU immigration link from Frontex is still pending, in order to carry out deportations.

Economic power of the diaspora

Conversely, the EU wants to meet Ethiopia, with visa facilitation and expansion of economic partnership to maintain good economic growth. To this end, a business event in Brussels will be held to promote investment. In his visit to Brussels, Ethiopia's Foreign Minister had also explicitly asked for a more cost-effective re-transfer of exiled Ethiopians from other European countries. Ethiopia's gross domestic product and foreign exchange reserves are enormously dependent on these money transfers to the families in the home country. To maximize this, the government in Addis 2013 called the so-called diaspora policy, which encourages Ethiopians in exile to invest with a hard foreign currency in their home country.

In 2015, Ethiopia signed a dialogue with the EU on migration development, the so-called Coutonou Agreement. With this, measures are to be implemented to prevent human trafficking and smuggling. Ethiopia is one of the main beneficiaries of the EU Emergency Relief Trust for Africa. Already in 2015 targeted measures against the sluggishness had been determined at the summit in Valletta for Ethiopia. 253 million euros were earmarked for this. In April 2016, a further 117 million euros were earmarked to support refugees, internally displaced persons and their host communities. Ethiopia has a share of 30 million euros.

In July 2016, the EU signed two other agreements with Ethiopia to be financed by the EU Trust Fund. Italy's development agency is responsible for implementation. Approximately 20 million euros will be invested in vocational schools and training programs for young people and women, especially in the regions of the country, which are particularly affected by irregular migration. The aim was to reduce the migration of young people. A further 47 million euros will be used to tackle the causes of the escape in five regions with neglected ethnic minorities. Here, too, the focus is on vocational training and better school and health care as well as food security. The EU policy description assumes that young people migrate less or emigrate if they find locally better living conditions. In the agreements, it is suggested that the central government, by its repressive policy against minorities and enormous land allocation to foreign investors such as Saudi Arabia itself creates reasons for escape.

Military and police

Within the framework of the so-called Khartoum process, Ethiopia is allocated € 45 million from the Treuhandfond for Africa under the keyword „better migration management“. The German Association for International Cooperation (GIZ) has added further offices in Addis and is expanding its work further. Ethiopia's law enforcement agencies are to be empowered to act against traffickers. Regional training programs for border authorities are to be implemented in order to establish joint border patrols between neighboring countries and to strengthen cooperation.

Almost all border lines of Ethiopia are contested locally and regionally, especially the line of demarcation against Eritrea, which had disappeared after an independence war in 1993. The border region is today an official war zone on both sides and is monitored by Ethiopian, well-trained special units of the army. Also along the border with Kenya there are always battles with Kenyan border troops. The desert-like area is a pasture and transit area for pastoralist peoples with their huge herds of cattle, which migrate back and forth in the barren desert depending on the rain and dry season. The settlement of the numerous border conflicts and thus the better regulation of the migration movements in and through Ethiopia can contribute to more stabilization in the region, according to the agreements.

Hardly any country is as armed as Ethiopia. The borders are defended by special forces of the army. Dieseling fast intervention groups are also used for the suppression of protests and insurrections. „The tension remains elevated and the human rights situation is terrible,“ says Michelle Kagari of Amnesty International.

Ethiopia, one of the first countries in 2012, has set up an agency to combat trafficking in human beings, the National Council against Human Trafficking (NCHF). This emerged from a task force, which had already been founded in 1993, in order to prevent the mass expulsion to South Africa after the loss of Eritrea in the independence war. Today's Prime Minister Desalegn was once the chairman of the NCHF, today she is headed by Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen. Representatives of the central, but also the local governments, as well as the secret services, as well as representatives of various ministries and youth organizations, are also members of the Executive Board.

In 2015, a law on the prevention and suppression of trafficking in human beings and smuggling has been passed, which provides penalties of up to 25 years of imprisonment and fines, also for the helpers of smugglers and document counterfeiters. In the case of serious offenses where the death of migrants by smugglers was intentionally accepted, the death penalty can also be imposed.

The NCHF agency is involved in places where many migrants live, among other things, with reconnaissance campaigns. It is gaining more and more information from the population and refugees themselves, and has been able to record some successes in the past few years. NCHF reported more than 200 arrests in 2015, according to a report from the regional Sanah research institute based in Kenya. Ethiopian NCHF agents, in collaboration with Sudanese and Kenyan border authorities, had carried out cross-border investigations on smuggling networks that drag migrants to South Africa.

The US State Department, however, noted in its 2015 report that although the investigations are increasing, corruption and complicity with the perpetrators impede the enforcement of the laws. According to the country profile of the Swiss NGO Global Detention Project, it is also worrying that little is known about the internment facilities and their conditions for the imprisoned migrants and refugees.

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