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Impact of Refugees on Hosting Communities in Ethiopia: A Social Analysis

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Key Findings


• As of March 30, 2020, Ethiopia was hosting 758,199 registered refugees and asylum seekers, making it the second largest refugee-hosting country in Africa. Most of these refugees (about 99 percent) come from four countries: South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan.

• Ethiopia is in the process of making far-reaching changes to its refugee policies. In 2016, it made “nine pledges” at the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees held in New York aimed at helping refugees gain greater mobility; improving access to services, especially education; expanding access to livelihoods, jobs, and irrigable land; and facilitating the local integration of long-term refugees.

• In February 2019, the Ethiopian parliament adopted a new refugee proclamation (no. 1110/2019) to facilitate the implementation of its pledges. Secondary legislation that will give effect to the proclamation is under preparation. This report, commissioned during this changing policy context, examines the social impacts of protracted displacement on the lives of refugees and host communities.

Context Is Critical

• The social impacts of displacement differ across and within each refugee-hosting region. They are shaped by each region’s history of displacement; by how different communities have settled, traded, and interacted; and by the development and humanitarian responses to displacement. The impact on individuals and communities is further shaped by markers of identity such as class, age, nationality, ethnicity, and gender.

• The social and political context in Gambella is exceptionally complicated due to a long history of conflict among groups over land and political power. The presence of refugees is a significant component of these dynamics.

Refugees and Hosts

• It can be difficult to distinguish between refugee and host in Ethiopia due to cross-border cultural and economic connections; common ties of kinship, language, and ethnicity; and relatively fluid attachments to national identity. This is true for almost all of its refugee-hosting regions, which are, other than Addis Ababa, situated at or near the country’s border.

• In many places, “Host” communities have emerged in response to the arrival of refugees and related humanitarian operations, creating new opportunities for commerce and trade.

• Intragroup conflict among hosts (and to some extent refugees) can be a significant determinant of the social impact of displacement. This is particularly true in Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz, and the Somali Regional State (or “Somali Region), where there are preexisting tensions among various ethnic groups and among residents treated as “indigenous” and those perceived to be later migrants from the Abyssinian highlands.