Sunday, 27 January 2019

Critical issues for the new Refugee Compact in Ethiopia

By Fekadu Adugna and Priya Deshingkar

“Imagine more than ten years without a job, moving nowhere. When we first arrived, we were young and energetic. Look at me now (displaying his arms and looking at his body in dismay). There (in Eritrea) the government took more than ten years off my life for military service. If I am given the opportunity to resettle they would take five more years for education and the like. When I am supposed to work, I am wasting my time. Does not it mean wasting my life? It is a taboo in our culture for a man to sit idle and eat. One has to work even if it is small. What you work and earn gives mental satisfaction…” An Eritrean refugee, interviewed by Mulu Getachew at Mai Aini refugee camp, September 2018.

On 17 January 2019 Ethiopia’s House of People’s Representatives approved a Revised Refugee Proclamation, which is believed to pave the road for the implementation of the “Ethiopia Compact”, part of the Global Compact for Refugees. Ethiopia has shown its readiness to respond to the UN Declaration on Refugees, which is regarded as a milestone for global solidarity on the protection of refugees. Indeed, the country’s investment commissioner announced that the new legislation was part of the Ethiopia’s “Jobs Compact”, which “allows refugees to work legally” - a $500 million programme which aims to create 100,000 jobs – 30% of which will be allocated to refugees. 

The proclamation provides refugees the right to engage in wage-earning employment, in the areas of agriculture, industrial parks (special economic zones), small and micro enterprises, handicrafts and commerce. It is a timely response to the global crisis of refugees, and is correctly welcomed by development partners as a paradigm shift in refugee policy. This is a welcome development given the fact that Ethiopia is the second most important refugee hosting country in Africa, after Uganda, with close to one million refugees accommodated in its 26 refugee camps.

However, policy makers and development partners need to consider critical socio-economic and political ramifications of the compact first.

Land scarcity and the politics of land

One of the Ethiopia’s nine pledges for refugees in the Job Compact, also included in the just enacted refugee proclamation, is access to land. This is expected to allow refugees to participate in agriculture which will give them a source of livelihood and add to the country’s GDP. Ethiopia is a country where the livelihoods of 85% of the more than one hundred million people depend on land. There is already irrefutable evidence that population growth coupled with sluggish rural economic transformation and climate change have resulted in unviable farm holdings and functional landlessness. Currently, more than one third of rural households dependent on agriculture are landless and the average landholding is around 0.5 hectares.
Simultaneously there are emergent multiple interests in land that exacerbate the pressure on farm land but also politicize issues related to land. These include large-scale agro-investments, intensive agri-businesses such as flori-cultures, aggressively expanding cities and towns and land grabbing. Thus, unless carefully managed and clearly communicated, giving land to refugees can easily become a political issue and endanger the initiative.

One way of diffusing these tensions is by using local socio-cultural networks and being sensitive to local inter-ethnic competition over land. Most of the refugees in Ethiopia are from neighboring countries with cross-border kinship (ethnic, clan) relations. While this could help local integration it could also easily be politicized unless the implementing bodies are sensitive to inter-group relations. This is particularly important in Gambella, where South Sudanese refugees are hosted and the Somali Region, where we find protracted refugee situations. 

Challenges of poverty and unemployment

Ethiopia is the hub of international migration in the Horn of Africa. Besides hosting refugees, Ethiopia is also a very important source and transit zone for international migrants. Annual emigration from Ethiopia is estimated to be around half a million, and two-thirds of these are irregular migrants who use different land and sea routes and networks. Much of this migration is driven by the lack of resources and employment opportunities at home.

Due to the dangerous journeys that poorer Ethiopian migrants undertake, it is common to hear worrisome news about their abuse and mistreatment en route to South Africa, Yemen and Libya. In the face of challenging socioeconomic factors such as rampant youth unemployment and poverty driven youth emigration, the new Job Compact has to be properly and clearly communicated to the citizens of Ethiopia. The fact that it is designed to benefit the citizens much more than refugees should be emphasized as its success depends on a positive reception by the Ethiopian people. Refugees should not be perceived as “grabbers” of opportunities when citizens are suffering from unemployment and landlessness. In other words, the balance between addressing the refugee problem and the problems that Ethiopia is already struggling with should be given due consideration.

Protracted IDP situation

Furthermore, there are more than two million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ethiopia, which ranks among the countries with the largest IDP populations in the world. Nearly 1.4 million of these are classed as “new” displacements caused by conflict and drought by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Regions such as Oromia have built temporary camps in peri-urban areas, some of them in the vicinity of the industrial parks.  There is widespread unemployment among IDPs and lasting solutions to their situation have not been found. It would be important that both these issues i.e., refugees and IDPs are considered together otherwise there is a danger of conflict over resources and employment.  

Viability of industrial parks

Industrial Parks in Ethiopia have failed to thrive. A study of Hawassa Industrial Park shows that the turnover of workers is high because of low wages, poor transport networks and insecure living and working conditions for women who form the bulk of the workforce. The obvious question is how these parks, which have failed to attract local workers, would attract refugees? Allocating 30,000 refugees to industrial parks should not be only a matter of quotas. The parks need to be attractive for foreign investors, local workers and refugees and be profitable and sustainable.   

Prescribed employment options

Finally, as the experience in other countries has shown, tying refugees to jobs that have been pre-specified runs the risk of defection. Refugees may reject such jobs in favour of more flexible options in the informal labour market. They may also reject them and opt for jobs that are better suited to their personal goals and qualifications.

All these potential difficulties suggest that it may make sense for the government of Ethiopia to undertake rapid pilots of the initiative, gather lessons on performance and adapt for a more effective programme.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Migrating out of Poverty at the 11th Global Forum on Migration and Development – the discourse and the way forward

By Emmanuel Quarshie,

Amidst the tremendous globalization, cultural harmonization and modernization the world is experiencing, human mobility is one of the main issues under discussion within policy and research circles. Migration is not a new phenomenon, but migration is now marked by different trends and patterns.

The world tends to be more globalized through technology, ideas, skills, knowledge and information sharing. As a result, the number of global migrants has increased. It is therefore imperative for nations to ensure that the human rights of every migrant are safeguarded and protected. Migrants contribute significantly to the development of both their host and home countries through skills transfer, and remittances among other key benefits.

Despite their significant contribution to development, circulating narratives portray migrants as threats to security and they experience high rates of xenophobia.

In order to touch base with these issues, several dialogues and conferences at national and international levels have been held to ensure proper, holistic and sustainable migration governance and management to reduce the cost of migration and maximize the benefits. Notable among them is the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) which has been ongoing for the past decade.

The recent GFMD took place in Morocco which brought together civil society groups, government delegates, academics and researchers. The core aim was to develop positions on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10.7 which seeks to achieve a safe, orderly and regular migration by 2030 and to reduce the cost of remittance transfer to 3% by 2030.

The Forum also aimed to reach agreement on the Global Compact on Migration which serves as the most recognized, but nonetheless non-binding, document that will (re)direct migration narratives in achieving these targets.

Questions raised by the Forum included: How do we fuse sustainable migration management and the developmental impact of migration together in order to achieve a win-win strategic policy for all? Is the call to global dialogue on migration a mere rhetoric or an action-based move? What next after signing the Global Compact? How does the compact resolve the issue of climate-change induced migrants? How comprehensive will this be to cover all categories of migrants? How do we ensure migrant rights?

The Global Compact cannot function to its maximum if the big issues - internal and intra-regional migration are overlooked. This is because almost every international migration is preceded by internal migration due to the step-wise nature of migration, most especially in developing countries like Ghana. The compact should be able to address issues of internal and intra-regional migration since it serves as the main policy document guiding migration and human mobility at all levels.
Though the Global Compact is a very broad framework which serves as a reference to all state and non-state actors in migration country-specific policies related to internal and regional realities on migration are needed to firm-up plans, address inconsistencies, leverage and produce a very universal and comprehensive strategy to serve as a guide to holistically manage global migration.

Having a Global Compact is very important, but its implementation will be critical. Some countries have witnessed how poorly good policies are being implemented largely due to the lack of political will. The question now is, how do we intermesh the views of civil society organizations, academics, researchers and governments to implement the Global Compact? We don’t want to restate, backslide nor undercut existing policies on migration but instead to expand, ratify and implement them in order to achieve a safe, orderly and regular migration for all.

How does the Global Compact foster the protection of human rights of these individual migrants and their families? This question can serve as a focal point for the Global Compact since this represents the broader picture when issues about human right abuse, violence and xenophobia are discussed.

To conclude, it is noteworthy that in order to achieve a triple win in migration among the host, sending countries, and migrants and their families, there is a need for a comprehensive Global Compact with a coherent and consistent approach which protects the rights of migrants and their family as well as supporting the management of remittances sent back home.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

The choices adolescent migrants make about work

By Dorte Thorsen

Exploitation is the central theme in all discussions about child labour and even more so when linked with children’s migration for work outside the family sphere. Often it is assumed that children cannot protect themselves against exploitation in the labour market without a parent or a designated guardian looking out for them. An interview with 15-year-old Fatou in Ziguinchor bus station in the Casamance region of Senegal reveals some of the nuances in this debate. 

Fatou is one of the many students from secondary school who proudly works during the long holidays to keep herself in school. In the middle of the holidays this year, she quit a job in a restaurant where she was earning 1000 Fcfa (£1.34) a day but was required to work very hard, for a less arduous job in another restaurant where she was paid 750 Fcfa (£1.00) a day. Not everyone is able to make the same choice though, and choices cannot be made in all spheres of life.

An important nuance to take into account is age. The debate on child labour with its focus on exploitation and harmful work defines a child as a person under 18 years. Fatou’s account shows that a girl aged 15 is capable of making choices and finding alternatives when the employment falls below her expectations.

Another nuance is how the child or adolescent was recruited to the work. Fatou found the jobs in the bus station by herself. However, during our interview it transpired that she had started working in the bus station in the middle of the holidays, because she had worked in her uncle’s fields until then. She was also tasked with cooking for the household on a daily basis. Even during the school year, she cooked for up to twenty people twice a day without much help. This work was unpaid. Although she was overburdened, Fatou could not quit the work.

Originally from Guinea Bissau, she had been placed with relatives in Ziguinchor at a young age. Children and adolescents who have been placed with an employer or a relative cannot leave without the approval of the person who placed them. The few times Fatou’s mother had visited, she never stayed long enough to note the amount of work her daughter was shouldering or the fact that Fatou spent the money earned at the bus station to pay for her own school fees, uniform, notebooks and even soap, so Fatou was not in a position where she could convince her mother to let her move elsewhere. Her ability to make choices was curbed by social rules and fear of defying parents and guardians, and by her educational aspirations which she could pursue while staying with her relatives, albeit with difficulty.

The point I am making here is not about treating unpaid work at home as a form of child labour - Fatou’s case is not the norm. What is important to consider in the planning of child protection and educational interventions is the arenas in which older children are able to make choices. Interventions that hinder older children in doing paid work may impact negatively on their ability to pursue school education or, if they are out of school, their acquisition of vocational skills. Equally important to take note of is the fuzziness of the category “child labour migrant”. Fatou differed from many other participants in this study because she had lived in Ziguinchor for a long time and yet could be considered a migrant. Common for migrant girls in their teens were that they were more likely to live with relatives than boys and that they were assigned more unpaid domestic work, thus impeding their ability to save up for schooling. Boys, on the other hand, spent some of their earnings on accommodation and food. Interventions to support these young migrants must therefore be tailored to their gender and social age.

This study is a collaboration between Dr. Dorte Thorsen and Dr. Mélanie Jacquemin, which with its focus on adoelscent and youth migrants is associated with the Gender and Generation project. The field research was co-financed by the Migrating Out Of Poverty consortium and Mobilités, voyages, innovations et dynamiques dans les Afriques méditerranéenne et subsaharienne (MOVIDA) research programme.