Ethiopia is taking steps to allow refugees greater opportunity for socio-economic inclusion. In January 2019, Ethiopia passed a new Refugee Proclamation that expends the rights of refugees in accordance with the ‘9 pledges’ it took in 2016 to change refugee policies. In 2018, we undertook a baseline data collection in Addis Ababa and in the five Dollo Ado camps. One of the aims of our panel data collection is to assess the impact of these policy changes, such as the right to work and freedom of movement, on socio-economic outcomes for refugees and host communities.

Research findings: Addis Ababa

Two legal exceptions to encampment have allowed refugees to live in Addis Ababa: the Out-of-Camp Policy (OCP) exclusively for Eritrean refugees who are able to support themselves or are supported by relatives, and the Urban Assistance Program (UAP) for refugees with medical, protection, or humanitarian concerns that camp-level facilities cannot adequately address. There are 17,000 OCP and 5,000 UAP refugees in Addis Ababa. In 2018, we undertook qualitative and quantitative data collection, surveying 2,441 refugees and host community members to explore the challenges faced by urban refugees in the capital, and the informal adaptation strategies they adopt in response.

In principle, OCP and UAP refugees occupy opposite ends of the vulnerability spectrum. In practice, however, they face a common set of constraints. Focusing on Eritrean OCP refugees and Somali UAP refugees, we show that both groups are currently in positions of extreme precarity, partly as a result of restrictions on the right to work, which leave them reliant upon the informal sector and vulnarable to exploitation.

Overall, we show that although Eritrean refugees have several significant advantages compared to Somalis, such as more education and higher levels of integration within the Ethiopian society, both refugee populations face extreme socio-economic challenges, including low incomes, high unemployment levels, poor mental and physical health indicators, and low life satisfaction, for example, when compared to the surrounding host communities. As a result, the overwhelming majority aspire to migrate onwards or access resettlement, with a significant focus on Europe and the United States. The implication is that creating sustainable socio-economic opportunities, including through new job creation, will be crucial in order to improve welfare outcomes and offer alternatives to onward migration.

The results of our findings are published in the report Refugee Economies in Addis Ababa: Towards Sustainable Opportunities for Urban Communities witten by A. Betts, L. Fryszer, N. Omata, O. Sterck.


Research findings: Dollo Ado

The five Dollo Ado refugee camps were created between 2009 and 2011. According to UNHCR registration data, they host around 220,000 almost exclusively Somali refugees in a 220,000 almost exclusively Somali refugees are concentrated in the five Dollo Ado camps created between 2009 and 2011 in the Somali Region of Ethiopia: Bokolmanyo, Melkadida, Kobe, Hilaweyn, and Buramino. While the camps were opened as emergency response to conflicts and draught, between 2015 and 2017, the focus shifted towards self-reliance and the creation of innovative approaches aimed at providing more sustainable opportunities for refugees and the host community.

Cut-off from the rest of Ethiopia by conflict in the Oromia-Somali region, Dollo Ado is a semi-arid and isolated border district with few natural resources, practically no industry, and in which refugees outnumber the host population. To create a sustainable economy for refugees and the host community in the Dollo Ado area is an ongoing challenge that requires understanding the Dollo Ado economy, including through evidence and data. In 2018, we undertook qualitative and quantitative data collection in this border region: we randomly selected and surveyed 5,643 refugees and host community members. Based on analysis of our qualitative and quantitative data, we show how refugees strategically use both the cross-border economy and international aid, and how the host community benefits from the presence of refugees.

Looking at the economic strategies of Somali refugees in the cross-border economy of Ethiopia's Somali region, we examine questions that have wider relevance for other regions of Ethiopia. We suggest that the economic systems created by refugees and hosts cannot be understood from the standard nation-state perspective usually adopted by the international community. The Dollo Ado economy can only be fully understood as part of a cross-border economy, interconnected to the national economy of Somalia.

In our report Refugee Economies in Dollo Ado: Development Opportunities in a Border Region of Ethiopia we examine the structural constraints facing the Dollo Ado economy and the strategies refugees use to overcome them. We show how refugees strategically use both the cross-border economy and international aid, and how the host community benefits from the presence of refugees. We conclude by outlining some options for creating sustainable opportunities.

Refugee Economies in Dollo Ado: Development Opportunities in a Border Region of Ethiopia is written by A. Betts, R. Bradenbrink, J. Greenland, N. Omata, O. Sterck. We are delighted to announce the publication of a Somali-language version.

The aim is to make our research accessible to the refugee and host communities with whom we work. And in order to do that, we've decided to pilot translation in Dollo Ado, where both refugees and the host community have a shared, common language. 

Alexander Betts explained "Until now, the main audiences for our reports have been academics, international organisations, NGOs, governments, and business. We wanted to broaden that to include refugees and host communities themselves. The communities play a key role in our research design and data collection. The next logical step is to ensure that we disseminate the research to those communities in a way that enables them to critically engage with the work and use it for their own purposes, such as informing their economic decision-making. For example, we wanted refugee-run businesses to have access to the kind of information that entrepreneurs around the world often take for granted -- data about the local economic landscape that can highlight untapped opportunities". 

The report will be launched in all five of the Dollo Ado refugee camps, and copies shared with refugee and host communities’ members at a series of outreach events organised with the Refugee Central Committees of the camps. The aim is to document and learn from the experience of those launch events. The translation was done by Maimuna Mohamud, a PhD student at Cambridge University. 


Funding: IKEA Foundation

Top photo: credit to R. Bradenbrink