Ethiopia reaffirms its commitment to improving Refugee lives by passing historic law granting more rights

23 Jan 2019

Ethiopia has a very long-standing history of hosting refugees with its open-door policy.  On 17th January, the Ethiopian Parliament passed a historic new refugee law which allows refugees to travel and live outside of camps, obtain work permits, access primary education, legally register life events such as births, deaths and marriages, and open up access to national financial services, such as banking.

In a statement on social media, Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) said, “We are happy to inform that the new refugee proclamation has been enacted by the House of Peoples’ Representatives. It is strongly believed that the new law will enhance the lives of refugees and host communities.”

The new law is part of Ethiopia’s “Jobs Compact” – a $500 million programme which aims to create 100,000 jobs, 30% of which will be allocated to refugees.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, welcomed the new law saying it was one of the most progressive refugee policies in Africa.

“The law will help refugees feel included and that they can contribute to society…But we must remember that access to education and employment doesn’t just benefit refugees, it also contributes to the economy and benefits local communities. Such legislation isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.”

– Dana Hughes, spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency in East Africa

“The passage of this historic law represents a significant milestone in Ethiopia’s long history of welcoming and hosting refugees from across the region,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “By allowing refugees to be better integrated into society, Ethiopia is not only upholding its international refugee law obligations but is serving as a model for other refugee-hosting nations around the world.”

South Sudanese refugee Ariat’s son, Angakuny, was amongst the first refugee children to receive a birth certificate in Ethiopia.  ©UNHCR/Diana Diaz

Ethiopia’s revision of its refugee law comes just weeks after the UN General Assembly agreed to the Global Compact on Refugees on 17th December 2018. At the heart of this innovative new framework is a more comprehensive response to displacement in which refugees are included in national services like health and education, rather than in parallel systems. It also ensures refugees can be self-reliant and contribute to local economies in a way that also benefits their hosts.

“As some countries have adopted xenophobic policies while turning away refugees, we are pleased that Ethiopia has passed this revised refugee law.”

– Stine Paus, Country Director for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Ethiopia.

The new refugee law replaces the 2004 Refugee Proclamation which also upheld the key principles of the 1951 Refugee Convention, and the 1969 OAU Convention.

Ethiopia is home to Africa’s second largest refugee population after Uganda, and currently hosts over 900,000 refugees, primarily from neighbouring South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea, as well as smaller numbers of refugees from Yemen and Syria.

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