Ethiopia has a long standing history of hosting refugees. The country maintains an open door policy for refugee inflows and allows humanitarian access and protection to those seeking asylum on its territory. In 2004, a national Refugee Proclamation was enacted based on the international and regional refugee conventions to which Ethiopia is a party (1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and its 1967 Protocol and the 1969 OAU Convention). Ethiopia’s parliament adopted revisions to its existing national refugee law on 17 January 2019, making it one of the most progressive refugee policies in Africa. The Law provides refugees with the right to work and reside out of camps, access social and financial services, and register life events, including births and marriages. Refugee protection in the country is provided within the framework of these international and national refugee laws as well as the core international human rights treaties that have been ratified by the country. Continued insecurity within neighbouring states has resulted in sustained refugee movements, either directly as a result of internal conflict and human rights abuses or as a result of conflict related to competition for scare natural resources and drought related food insecurity.
Eritreans, South Sudanese, Sudanese, Yemenis and Somalis originating from South and Central Somalia are recognized as prima facie refugees. Nationals from other countries undergo individual refugee status determination.
The refugee flow to Ethiopia continued during 2018, with 36,1351 persons seeking safety and protection within the country’s borders. At the start of 2019, the nation hosted 905,8312 thousand refugees who were forced to flee their homes as a result of insecurity, political instability, military conscription, conflict, famine and other problems in their countries of origin. Ethiopia is one of the largest refugee asylum countries world-wide, and the second largest in Africa, reflecting the ongoing fragility and conflict in the region. Ethiopia provides protection to refugees from some 26 countries. Among the principal factors leading to this situation are predominantly the conflict in South Sudan, the prevailing political environment in Eritrea, together with conflict and draught in Somalia.
The majority of refugees in Ethiopia are located in Tigray Regional State and the four Emerging Regions of Ethiopia: Afar Regional State; Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State; Gambella Regional State; and the Somali Regional State. The Emerging Regions are the least developed regions in the country, characterized by harsh weather conditions, poor infrastructure, low administrative capacity, a high level of poverty and poor development indicators. The arid environment in the Afar and Somali regions and the small and scattered nomadic populations make it more challenging to provide services. Many parts of the four regions are inaccessible with poor or no roads.
The South Sudanese are the largest refugee population in Ethiopia, totalling 422,240 persons at the close of the year. Ongoing violence in Upper Nile, Jonglei and Unity States that has increasingly impacted border areas, resulted in 17,554 new arrivals seeking asylum in 2018. The majority were accommodated through the expansion of Nguenyyiel Camp in the Gambella Region. Somalis constitute 28.4 percent of registered refugees, with 759 new arrivals during 2018, contributing to a total population of 257,283 individuals. Fleeing generalized instability that resulted in loss of livelihoods, families were subsequently accommodated across five camps within the Somali region. The Eritrean caseload comprised 173,879 individuals at the end of the year, with 14,567 new arrivals received within the Tigray and Afar Regions. Ethiopia also hosts an additional caseload of 52,429 individuals drawn from across the wider region; including from Sudan (44,620), Yemen (1,891), and other countries.
While continuing to manage four distinct refugee operations, and mindful of the fluid socio-political context within the country, the Government of Ethiopia (GoE) has advocated for stable humanitarian financing, while promoting wider investments in refugees’ self-reliance through an improved and sustainable approach that goes beyond mere care and maintenance and combines wider support to host communities; furthering peaceful coexistence and the greater inclusion of refugees as part of national development plans. At the close of 2017, the Government formally launched the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) in Ethiopia, effectively paving the way for the implementation of the nine pledges it made at the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees in New York in 2016.
Through the pledges, which serve as a vehicle for implementing the CRRF in the country, Ethiopia seeks to: expand its out-of-camp policy (OCP); provide work permits to refugees; increase enrolment in primary, secondary and tertiary education; provide access to irrigable land for crop cultivation; facilitate local integration in instances of protracted displacement; earmark a percentage of jobs within industrial parks to refugees; and provide access to vital events documentation to facilitate increased access to basic and essential social services. The new Refugee Proclamation enables refugees to become more independent, better protected and have greater access to local solutions. Fulfilling these considerable and measurable government commitments to further its duty of care to refugees, relative to its existing national resource constraints, will inevitably be based on the scale-up of equitable responsibility-sharing between UN Member States.
To guide the transition towards an increasingly integrated approach to refugee assistance, the NCRRS will be adopted in 2019. The goal of the Strategy is to ensure the self-reliance and resilience of refugees and host communities; and to prepare refugees for durable solutions by supporting their socio-economic integration and a phased transition out of the current camp-based model of assistance. The national Strategy will guide the implementation of the Pledges, related initiatives and plans, and will align to the GoE’s Growth and Transformation Plan.
Grounded in the spirit of the CRRF, and contributing to the NCRRS, the Ethiopia Country Refugee Response Plan (ECRRP) outlines the collective response of 54 humanitarian and development agencies over the next two years in support of all registered refugee population groups in the country. The Plan aims to ensure the increased coherence and alignment of all planned interventions supporting refugees against a common set of sectorial objectives and performance targets, to improve coordination and further timely and effective protection and solutions. In addition to the release of quarterly sectorial reports charting shared progress against planned deliverables, a mid-term review will take place at the end of 2019 to reflect adjustments in operational planning in-line with the evolving operational context.
It is projected that Ethiopia will host 860,000 refugees by the end of 2020, mainly from South Sudan (450,000), Eritrea (150,000) and Somalia (170,000). This projection does not reflect the outcome of the ongoing verification exercise, taking place as part of country-wide Level 3 registration that will conclude in March 2019. The reduction in the refugee population from Somalia anticipates an improvement in the general security situation in the country. Within a global climate of limited humanitarian and development financing that has led to critical shortfalls in food assistance, limited opportunities for third-country resettlement, together with only modest support to youth and a growing population of unaccompanied and separated children, bold financial commitments - for essential humanitarian services and a sustainable solutions-based response - will be needed over the next two years to harness the CRRF’s transformational agenda.