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 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa “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 over scare natural resources and drought related food insecurity.
Ethiopia is one of the largest refugee asylum countries world-wide, reflecting the ongoing fragility and conflict in the region. The country 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 drought in Somalia. 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 receiving during 2019, 96,749 persons seeking safety and protection within the country’s borders. At the start of 2020, the nation hosted 735,204 refugees who were forced to flee their homes as a result of insecurity, political instability, military conscription, conflict, conflict-induced famine and other problems in their countries of origin.
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, totaling 329,123 persons at the close of the year. The Gambella Regional State received 8,219 new arrivals seeking asylum in 2019, in addition to individuals who spontaneously returned to South Sudan during the course of the year and were subject to further cross-border displacement. Somalis constitute 26.1 percent of registered refugees, with 8,736 new arrivals in the Somali Region during 2019, contributing to a total population of 191,575 individuals. Fleeing drought and generalized instability that resulted in loss of livelihoods, families were subsequently accommodated across eight camps within the Somali region. The Eritrean planned population comprised 139,281 individuals at the end of the year, with 72,737 new arrivals received within the Tigray and Afar Regions. The Sudanese caseload comprised 42,285 individuals, with 6,456 new arrivals in the Beneshangul-Gumuz Region. Ethiopia also hosts an additional caseload drawn from across the wider region and beyond; including Kenya Borena and urban populations living in Addis Ababa (32,940).
Officially launched in September 2018, comprehensive Level 3 Registration formally concluded in July 2019.
The exercise was initiated following the relative stabilization of three concurrent humanitarian emergencies in the country following the mass influx of refugees from Eritrea, Somalia and South Sudan and covered 26 camps, and 10 settlements. The exercise provided an opportunity to resolve the deviation between the official and active population figures in the country and resulted in a reduction in the overall registered refugee caseload. With existing humanitarian operations being demand driven across all sectors and based predominantly on the needs of the camp-based refugee population, there have been only modest adjustments to programming and resource requirements. Equally, while sectorial assistance continues to remain below the minimum international humanitarian standards and related refugee needs in a number of sectors, the assistance gap against overall refugee needs has been reduced, which should be considered a positive finding.
While continuing to manage four distinct refugee responses, 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 multi-year development financing to support 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 and regional development plans. At the close of 2019, the GoE announced additional national commitments at the Global Refugee Forum, in the areas of jobs and livelihoods, education, protection and energy and the environment; building upon 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.
Grounded in the spirit of the Global Compact on Refugees and contributing to the ten-year National Comprehensive Refugee Response Strategy, which seeks 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 Ethiopia Country Refugee Response Plan outlines the collective response of 57 humanitarian and development partners 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.
It is projected that Ethiopia will host 751,449 refugees by the end of 2020, mainly from South Sudan (305,822), Somalia (219,926), Eritrea (137,182) and Sudan (63,260). 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 commitments by the international community and the expansion of new multi-year financing models - for essential humanitarian services and a sustainable solutions-based response - will be needed over the next two years to harness the transformational agenda of the Global Compact on Refugees.