The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID)- the government body responsible for the Britain’s overseas aid budget and major backer of development organisations including VSO and Tearfund- recently announced its plan to back a proposal to fund the creation of an industrial centre in Ethiopia which aims to create 100 000 jobs, some of will go to asylum seekers, in order to create incentives for people to stay in Ethiopia and stem the flow of migrants watering Europe’s ‘crisis’.
Ethiopia currently hosts the highest number of refugees on the African continent, due to a combination of its unfortunate and unstable neighbours, its open-door asylum policy and it being an ideal stopover point for people migrating northwards to Europe from Eastern and Central Africa.
In Ethiopia, the majority of refugees are supposedly confined to camps and have no legal right to work in the country. At present, there are 23 such camps scattered across the country, the vast majority of which are situated in Ethiopia’s most deprived rural provinces. According to key proponents of the industrial centre- which was proposed by the Eastern African giant’s ruling party the EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) and is supported by major financial institutions including the World Bank and European Investment Bank- by granting employment rights to a number of refugees, opportunity will improve, adversity will decrease and asylum seekers will remain in Ethiopia until it is safe for them to return home.
However, there are a number of obstacles to the plan’s objective which don’t appear to be accounted for. The project is designed to create 100, 000 new job vacancies through the building of the industrial hub, some of which will presumably be filled by asylum seekers, given that the EPRDF has agreed to also grant employment rights to 30 000 Somali, Eritrean & South Sudanese refugees in the country.
While on the surface this appears to be a sensible step in the right direction, the project fails to acknowledge that Ethiopia is dealing with its own unemployment problems (conservative figures for unemployment rates in town and cities among the working-age population were around 17% last year). 100 000 new jobs are needed if the country is to continue its promising economic growth.
While still outstripping many Sub-Saharan neighbours- whose collective growth rate is forecast to slip to the lowest level in two decades this year, according to World Bank forecast- Ethiopia’s booming economy of recent years has seen something of a cooling-off. This is mirrored in unemployment figures, which despite having improved as a whole over the last 20 years, have been creeping over the last few years up in certain social groups, namely amongst women and under-25’s.
As such, the success of the plan comes down to ensuring that 1/3 of these jobs actually go to asylum seekers, and also how EPRDF manage to pull off the project as a piece of PR to avoid local perceptions viewing the plan as favouring refugees over Ethiopians- particularly in the most deprived areas of the country, where the majority of refugees are living at present.
On the global institutions’ part (i.e. the World Bank, DFID, and European Investment Bank), the issue is that while this kind of foresight is preferable to collectively burying heads in the sand over the so-called migration crisis, this particular brand of future-proofing doesn’t actually do very much to help the root cause of the problem and arguably just outsources it to somebody else.
This isn’t entirely surprising. So far, many of the policies that major world institutions have managed to agree on involve re-settlement of refugee populations to “emerging” countries in Latin America and Eastern Europe. This is not an entirely bad idea, but without taking more decisive responsibility in the UK & Western Europe, it looks a lot like passing the buck.
In addition to this, although the project is marketed as a philanthropic developmental scheme, it is undeniably beneficial to the donor states who are able to use their collective financial clout to both shrug off responsibility for settling more migrants on home turf and simultaneously stipulate quotas of manufactured goods to be imported to the EU (if we are to assume that the Ethiopian plan will follow the Jordanian model of a similar plan implemented earlier this year). The centre piece to all of this is that the plan ultimately deepens Ethiopia’s aid dependency and economic inequality with developed nations, which is one of the country’s most difficult obstacle to long-term development.
In principle, the project could be defended if there were any evidence that development actually reduced migration. However, as people become wealthier they are inclined to travel more, not less. Industry and trade in emerging economies should complement migration, but will not prevent it. Equally, a short-lived abundance of low-paid factory jobs on the outskirts of Addis will not change the demands for skilled and unskilled labour in Europe, nor quell the labour demands of its looming demographic crisis.
Besides this, Ethiopia (although stable) is politically implicated in some of the key source countries’ conflicts, which makes it a questionable choice for the industrial hub. If it is accepted that little that can be done to stem economic migration, then efforts should be focused on reducing “push factors”, such as armed conflict. Given that the EPDRF has been accused of arming refugees on the Sudanese border and prolonging clan scuffles in the Somali region, it is debatable whether supporting the government lends itself to peace-building in the region.A serious attempt by the UK government or global financial institutions to reduce growing number of asylum seekers would involve more decisive efforts to combat high-level international corruption and reduce the number of arms flowing into affected regions.
Instead, the project in Ethiopia looks more like an attempt by Europe to outsource responsibilities a country that is no more impartial, and certainly no better equipped, than most European states. By offloading these responsibilities Europe also shies away from action to improve local tensions between its longstanding citizens and 100 000s of new arrivals. Without acting on broader social concerns such as a shortage of stable employment and affordable housing, countries like the UK will only see these tensions will continue to grow, with or without their involvement in Ethiopia’s industrial projects.
Catherine Tilke edits the PS21 website and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PS21 is a non-national, non-governmental, non-ideological organisation. All views expressed are the author’s own.