As it is well known, there are many reasons for people to leave their home, their city and, very often, their country; the most recognized reasons can be: economic development, consequences of climate change, and conflicts within a country. In Ethiopia, as in other countries, these three reasons are the main drivers of migration and refuge.
The economic aspect:
For years, Ethiopia had been held up as a model: a fast-growing economy, reforms designed to modernise the country, the seat of the African Union, the best stability in the Horn of Africa. However, it is also one of the poorest nations, with a per capita income of $850, and on this matter, Ethiopia aims to reach lower-middle-income status by 2025.
In recent years, the government of Ethiopia has agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on economic policy plans that focus on financial stabilisation and structural transformation of the economy to make economic growth rates sustainable, while improving the efficiency of the system.
What the framework of the strategy agreed by the Ethiopian government with the IMF does not clarify is the impact of structural reforms on poverty, inequality, working conditions and environmental sustainability. In this regard, the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief (Oxfam) noted that the measures adopted are aimed at increasing savings and investment, so as to generate higher profits and wages in more advanced production and services. Thus, the risk is that this approach increases inequalities, because the benefits are not passed on to the agricultural sector, rural-urban mobility is limited and demand for agricultural inputs is declining.
More than 40% of Ethiopians are under 15 years of age; the population aged 0-29 years old accounts for about 73% of the total population and about three million young people enter the labour force every year. The problem of chronic youth unemployment is very evident in Ethiopia. Thousands of university graduates leave every year for whom there are no jobs.
The issue of work is, par excellence, both an economic and a social issue. In fact, the issue of unemployment is closely linked to that of economic poverty, because without employment it is very difficult today to break out of the vicious circle of poverty, even though it is by no means true that employment, whatever it may be, regardless of decent working conditions, is capable of lifting people out of poverty.
The consequences of climate change:
Economies that are fundamentally agricultural in terms of employment of the population, such as that of Ethiopia and more generally of neighbouring countries, are mainly dependent on water, all the more so because traditional methods of cultivation are mainly used.
Droughts have dramatic effects on people’s survival strategies, exacerbate inter-ethnic conflicts or conflicts between types of communities (farmers versus livestock breeders), encourage the spread of diseases, prevent the long-term sustainability of production methods, and reduce agricultural productivity.
Ethiopia has experienced some of the most devastating droughts and subsequent famines in history, starting in the 1980s.
There is an insidious process underway, the one mentioned above of progressive desertification, soil erosion, but also variability in the timing of rainfall (even if the total amount of rainfall does not increase or decrease) which also has devastating effects on crop production and yields.
Traditionally nomadic populations that followed natural weather patterns are displaced by border restrictions by national governments and altered climate cycles.
The region’s economy is heavily dependent on the exploitation of natural resources and, over time, the unsustainable use of resources has increased environmental degradation, reduced opportunities for economic and social development, undermined the preconditions for stability and security, and forced those who can to migrate. This has direct implications in terms of movement of people, but also in terms of security, as conflicts escalate in the region over limited economic sources.
The conflict inside the country:
The conflict between Addis Ababa and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) had initially focused on the Tigray region and began on 4 November 2020, when Ethiopia’s Prime Minister and 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Abiy Ahmed, had launched a military campaign against the TPLF, a group that was in charge of the region and had been challenging the central government in Addis Ababa for months. After an attack on a military base of Ethiopian forces in Dansha, blamed on the TPLF, the Prime Minister accused the group of treason and terrorism and launched a military campaign in the region, which was declared over on 29 November with the capture of the regional capital, Mekelle.
However, the conflict continued and, on 2 November 2021, the Ethiopian government declared a state of national emergency with immediate effect and the authorities in Addis Ababa told citizens to prepare to defend the capital. The rebels recaptured most of Tigray by June 2021 before advancing into the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara.
Conflicts, Displacement, and Refuge
The war in Ethiopia has created a major humanitarian crisis with hundreds of thousands of people facing famine conditions in the Tigray region, over two million people displaced and thousands killed.
This situation has led to two consequences:
- people moving within the country, i.e. changing cities: Ethiopia is characterised by considerable mobility within the national borders, which develops along four main lines: economic migration from rural areas to regional capitals, linked to land scarcity; mobility for study or work in public administration; internally displaced persons due to ethnic conflicts; population transfers organised by the government in response to socio-environmental events, such as drought and famine, or to balance the social impact of large-scale development projects.
Source: DTM IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix – Ethiopia National Displacement Report: Site Assessment round 26 & Village Assessment survey round 9: June-July 2021
According to studies by the World Health Organization, more than 5.2 million people in Tigray, Ethiopia, are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, including health care, due to the conflict that erupted in late 2020 inside the country. The conflict has left thousands of people injured and traumatised and has had a severe impact on the lives and livelihoods of families. The spread of the conflict to the neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions is significantly increasing humanitarian needs in the northern part of the country. Indeed, more than 2.1 million people are displaced and living in crowded environments with limited access to water and sanitation.
- people deciding to leave their country and move to the nearest one (The Sudanese Case):
Given its geographical location and as a major country of origin, destination and transit, Sudan has been a crucial interlocutor for international cooperation on migration management. And being on the border with the Tigray region, it is one of the main destinations for migrants from Ethiopia.
Source: UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency – 30 September 2021
As shown in the graph, we can see that a total of 114.439,00 Ethiopian’s refugees have fled from Tigray and Amhara regions to Sudanese refugee camps in Kassala and Gedaref till the end of last September. This number jumped from about 14.000,00 in September 2020 which shows the catastrophic effect of the conflict in Tigray on the Ethiopian people: they have been forced to abandon their homes; to cross the border into Sudan in fairly poor conditions; to live in a new country where they have nothing and suffer from hunger, thus depending in every way on the aid of the new Government and on the aid of International Organisations working to safeguard humanitarian rights.
Considering this is a delicate situation, since we are dealing with refugees and human rights, and because it is not possible to have a solution to this problem, the only reasonable thing to do is to deduce some scenarios that could happen in response to this problem.
There are three possible scenario:
- Open-end conflict: Tigray troops, because they no longer recognise the Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, as such, refuse to negotiate with him and declare a ceasefire. Their condition for this to happen is to open a dialogue with a new Prime Minister. On the other hand, the Prime Minister refuses to open a dialogue with the Tigray troops, as he considers them to be terrorists who are supported by their alliance with the Oromo people. Since both sides have no intention of yielding in the slightest, they are not responding to any calls from International Organisations for a ceasefire as soon as possible. Obviously, this stalemate means that the situation of the Ethiopian population, and therefore inevitably of the refugees, is not improving but rather worsening and becoming more and more difficult to sustain both for them and for the neighbouring countries hosting the refugees.
- Accepting the International initiative to the end the conflict: By accepting the International initiative in seeking a solution to the conflict, refugees and asylum seekers would be able to return to their country. On 17 December, the UN Human Rights Council voted to send international investigators to Ethiopia in light of allegations of widespread violence, a move criticised by Addis Ababa. To date, diplomatic efforts led by the African Union to try to reach a ceasefire failed to achieve any tangible results. Unfortunately, however, there is no evidence for the success of this possible scenario, and for this reason it is a very weak scenario.
- One side overcomes the other: A third possible scenario is one in which one side prevails over the other and then they start to rebuild what was destroyed during this conflict.
If this happens, the winning side will receive international assistance, both politically and economically, to get the country back on its feet and to get the refugees back into the country.
This would bring the refugee situation under control and in such case this means that many of the people who are now in refugee camps on the borders of the country would return home, which would also help the host countries that are currently responsible for them.
In conclusion, it can be said that Ethiopia is a country where migration is present due to three factors: economic development, climate change and internal conflicts. Currently, the internal conflict that broke out in November last year is the main reason why these flows are increasing as seen from the numbers shown in the graphs.
For a solution in the short future, the only scenario that could come true is the first one, the open-end conflict, as neither of the two sides, the Prime Minister and the TPLF troops have any intention of giving in to their position. However, this will continue to lead to a worsening of the living conditions and human rights of Ethiopian citizens, which will continue to lead to increased migration, which in turn will burden the host countries. In this conflict, many crimes have been committed against the Ethiopian population, on both sides, specifically against the people of Tigray: thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of displaced people, violence and rape, and war crimes. If a solution to the problem is not found quickly, events will worsen in an escalation that threatens not only Ethiopia, but the entire region and could have serious consequences for the entire continent, whose institutions are based in Addis Ababa.