Ethiopia’s parliament has adopted revisions to its existing refugee law, making it one of the most progressive refugee policies in Africa. The revised framework strives for refugee integration, allowing refugees to obtain work permits, access primary education, obtain drivers’ licenses, national financial services such as banking among others.
Low and middle income countries like Ethiopia host 85% of the global refugee population. Refugee compacts or ‘jobs compacts’ or Economic Opportunities Programs are agreements between donors and governments that host refugees to mitigate the expenses for their already struggling economies.
These grants, concessional loans and other incentives are used to stimulate economic development and enable host countries to provide basic services to refugees and local populations.
As the second-largest refugee-hosting country in Africa, Ethiopia is currently the host of over 900,000 refugees mainly from neighbouring South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea, as well as smaller numbers from Yemen and Syria. On Thursday 17th January 2019 the country’s parliament revised its existing refugee laws to allow refugees opportunities hitherto denied them. These include access to work permits, primary education, drivers’ licenses, national financial services such as banking and the rights to legally register life events such as births and marriages.
“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 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi in a statement.
“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.”
Ethiopia has maintained an open-door policy toward refugees since the 1990s and this is the latest development in a steady progression towards improving the lives of refugees living in the country.
A case study by the International Rescue Committee detailed that in 2010, the Ethiopian government introduced an out of camp policy that permitted Eritrean refugees to reside in rural and urban areas under a sponsor. In addition, about 12,500 refugees of a range of nationalities were authorized to live in Addis Ababa but could not work or access primary schools and other basic services.
Then in 2016, the Government of Ethiopia made nine pledges to improve the lives of refugees and host communities. It went on to roll out the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) of the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants. This made it one the first countries to receive multiyear, concessional financing from the World Bank’s 18th replenishment of the International Development Association (IDA18) sub-window for refugee-hosting nations.
Even with its economic struggles, Ethiopia has recognized the positive impact that refugee integration could have on its communities and local economies. This new framework not only includes refugees in its national systems and societies outside of camps but ensures refugees have the opportunity to be self-reliant and can contribute to the local economy in a way that also benefits Ethiopia.