Nearly 1 million refugees in Ethiopia will now have right to live and work outside of camps

Ethiopia passed a law on 17 January 2018, giving almost 1 million refugees the right to work and live outside of camps. This is part of Ethiopia’s commitment to the United Nations Global Compact on Refugees, adopted by world leaders in December 2018.

Specifically, the law allows refugees to obtain work permits, access primary education, obtain drivers’ licenses, legally register life events such as births and marriages and open access to banking. At present, most of the country’s refugees were largely confined to about 20 camps across country, and most are not allowed to work.

With 905,831 registered refugees as of 31 August 2018, Ethiopia is the second biggest refugee hosting nation in Africa following Uganda.  Ethiopia currently hosts refugees from South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea, as well as smaller numbers from Yemen and Syria who fled to Ethiopia due to conflict and persecution in their countries.

“We are happy to inform that the new refugee proclamation has been enacted by the House of Peoples’ Representatives of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia,” Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) said on statement posted on their Facebook page.

“It is strongly believed that the new law will enhance the lives of refugees and host communities,” the statement added.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, welcomes the move, calling it one of the most progressive refugee policies in Africa. “The passage of this historic law represents a significant milestone in Ethiopia’s long history of welcoming and hosting refugees from across the region for decades,” said UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi.

“By allowing refugees the opportunity to be better integrated into society, Ethiopia is not only upholding its international refugee law obligations, but is serving as a model for other refugee hosting nations around the world.”

UNHCR East Africa spokeswoman Dana Hughes said in a report by Reuters: “the law will help refugees feel included and that they can contribute to society.”  

“But we must remember that access to education and employment doesn’t just benefit refugees, it also contributes to the economy and benefits local communities. Such legislation isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.”

Fitsum Arega, the head of the Ethiopian Investment Commission, said the new legislation is a part of Ethiopia’s USD 500 million jobs compact. The jobs programme is designed to create 100,000 jobs, 30 per cent of which will be reserved for refugees, mainly young women, to be employed in the manufacturing sector.

“This helps refugees & supports Ethiopia’s industrialisation,” Arega said on Twitter.

TMP – 20/01/2019

Photo caption: A South Sudanese refugee teaches a class at a primary school in Kule refugee camp, Ethiopia, March 2016. 
Photo credit: UNHCR/Petterik Wiggers