Rapid fragility and migration assessment for Ethiopia

Migratory context and drivers:

  • Until the early 1990s, Ethiopia was one of the largest sources of refugees and migrants in Africa; since then it has become the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa.
  • Compared with many other countries in Africa, Ethiopia has a relatively low international migration rate. Analysis anticipates Ethiopia may experience rising outward migration rates in the next few decades as it develops and, as a result, continuing migratory pressures.
  • Most migration from Ethiopia is driven by lack of livelihood opportunities – especially for the young.
  • Oppressive political context and insecurity are cited as the second most important migration drivers.
  • Specific groups face migratory pressures from political and economic exclusion and marginalisation.

Outward migration:

  • The few legal options lead to irregular migration – in particular to the Middle East.
  • While the profile of migrants from Ethiopia varies by destination, in general migrants are young and single, increasingly female, and many are Oromo and Amhara people. The majority of legal Ethiopian migrants that go to the Middle East are young women.
  • Many migrants are victims of fraud, forced labour, and physical, sexual, and psychological abuse by employers or traffickers.
  • Secondary outward migration by refugees in Ethiopia (especially Eritreans) to Europe occurs as a result of their frustrations over their lack of opportunities in Ethiopia.

Inward migration:

  • Ethiopia hosts large numbers of refugees – most of whom are women and children – from conflict-affected parts of South Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea. Most refugees are prevented from working, with the exception of some Eritreans who can undertake informal employment.
  • There are also returning migrants, many of whom intend to migrate again.

Internal migration:

  • Migration within Ethiopia is thought to be larger than external flows. Rural-urban migration to improve livelihoods is a low but growing trend, in particular for young people, and can be a first step towards international migration.
  • Other internal displacement has been driven by drought, war, political conflicts, resettlements, villagisation policies and poverty.

Migrant journeys:

  • There are three main irregular routes migrants and refugees take out of Ethiopia:
    – Eastern irregular route: desert and sea route from Afar, Dire Dawa, Jijiga, through Djibouti or Somalia, to Yemen and onwards.
    – Southern irregular route: overland route from Moyale to Kenya and on to South Africa.
    – Northern/western irregular route: overland route from Metema/Wollega province through Sudan and on towards Libya and Europe (by sea).
  • Taking an irregular route means that Ethiopian migrants and refugees are smuggled or trafficked during their journey.
  • The government response has been to legislate against smugglers and traffickers (conflating the two) and to impose a temporary ban on migration to the Middle East between 2013 and 2015. However, there have been few prosecutions and people have taken other illegal routes instead. This may change with the introduction of new legislation.

Development impacts of migration:

  • Remittances, from those abroad and in country, have had a positive effect on households and the country’s development, although some migrants struggle to send them. Officially remittances are worth USD 3-3.5 billion (2014/2015) (the true figure is likely to be higher). Declining international support for assistance to refugees in Ethiopia and the inability of most refugees to engage in livelihood opportunities are contributing to negative development impacts of refugees for Ethiopia.
  • Foreign aid has been credited with contributing to Ethiopia’s development, although it has also been criticised for supporting programmes that are claimed to have contributed to displacement. The effectiveness of donor support in helping to meet development challenges will depend on the Ethiopian government improving governance, empowering local authorities, and becoming more accountable to its citizens.

Suggested citation

Carter, B. & Rohwerder, B. (2016). Rapid fragility and migration assessment for Ethiopia (Rapid Literature Review). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.