Ethiopia’s labour laws pushing refugees onwards, warns ODI

3 Mar 17

Millions of dollars of aid funds are being undermined as donor efforts to stem migration from countries like Ethiopia are thwarted by the country’s labour laws, a UK think-tank has argued.


The Overseas Development Institute highlighted that efforts to discourage refugees from Eritrea to end their journeys in Ethiopia are unable to compensate for the fact that refugees are not legally able to work, pushing them towards dangerous routes onwards.

Richard Mallett, research fellow at the ODI and lead author of the think-tank’s study, published today, said the range of policies used by western governments to deter refugees from onwards, often perilous, migration, have only short-lived effects.

These could include, for instance, vocational training and loans to support refugees in building livelihoods in Ethiopia.

“While there is no doubt this support is helping people meet basic survival needs, the policy has a limited impact on people moving,” Mallett said.

“If refugees are not allowed to work, then they are unlikely to want to stay where their opportunities are limited – and instead opt to take life-threatening routes, sometimes to Europe.

“Policymakers have to address these realities if their aim is to curb secondary migration.”

Last year, over 360,000 people made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean from Africa, seeking a better life in Europe. More than 15,000 Eritreans arrived in Italy alone.

Eritrea, a super authoritarian country, dubbed one of the fastest-emptying nations, is thought to lose around 5,000 people every month. It is home to one of the world’s most closed and strictest regimes, with forced conscription, labour and other human rights abuses, as well as widespread poverty.

The ODI’s report focused on Ethiopia’s Eritrean refugee population, which as of July last year stood at more than 160,000.

It used interviews with refugees, living in both camps and urban areas, to uncover their plans and aspirations and the influence of migration policies on their decisions.

It found that while donor-funded policy measures help the refugees to meet basic needs in the short term and gain new skills, they are unable to put newly acquired skills and capital to good use without legal access to the labour market.

Their only recourse is to opt for insecure, poor-quality and usually illegal work, or to move on elsewhere.

A proposed job compact, that would create 30,000 jobs for refugees in Ethiopia, could start to address the situation, the ODI said. But ultimately, it called for refugee labour rights to be enhanced in Ethiopia to allow access to the labour market.

The think-tank also stressed that opening up formal routes for resettlement would provide people with the opportunity to move on safely and legally.

These should be expanded and developed to offer genuinely viable alternatives to informal routes, it said, while information about resettlement should be made more accessible to inform refugees about their options and counter growing distrust in the formal system. 

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