Courting commotion? Changing migration dynamics on the southern route to South Africa
Despite the international attention that is currently focussed on migratory flows directed towards Europe and other Western countries, the continued flow of Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers along the southern corridor to South Africa via Kenya, Tanzania and other southern African countries is significant.
Available figures from 2009 indicate that between 17,000 and 20,000 Somalis and Ethiopians are smuggled along the southern corridor towards South Africa every year, with Ethiopian nationals accounting for at least two thirds of the estimates. Anecdotal information and scattered quantitative data (such as estimates on the number of Ethiopians entering Kenya on a daily basis or the number of migrants transiting through Malawi per month) suggest this smuggling business is as active as ever. Further, out of an estimated 62,200 asylum applications received in South Africa in 2015, Ethiopian nationals accounted for about 15% (or 9,300). Other sources indicate there are about 40,000 Ethiopian migrants living in South Africa as of 2015.
Why are Ethiopians leaving Ethiopia?
Ethiopia is hailed as one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, with its growth averaging 10.8% per annum between 2003 and 2014 as a result of improved performance in services, agricultural sectors and increased public investment. About 70% of the country’s population, (nearly 100 million), is under the age of 30, yet lack of employment opportunities (25% of youth aged 15 to 29 reported being underemployed in 2014) adds to migratory pressures among the young people. As Ethiopia’s economy grows, it is likely that emigration will increase in future as more people will have the resources they need to finance their aspirations to migrate.
While Ethiopia’s democracy has been cited as progressive [video] by the US government, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other organizations have reported on extensive human rights abuses in Ethiopia including arbitrary arrests and detention of perceived supporters of opposition parties, protesters, journalists and abuses related to government development programs. In June 2016, Ethiopia was elected as non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC) for a two year term starting January 2017. The government in a statement noted that it would address (among others) illegal immigration during its term.
The majority of Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers travelling to South Africa are young people aged between 18 and 35 in search of a better life or using South Africa as a springboard to other developed countries in Europe or North America. Some Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers interviewed in Nairobi said they chose the southward route (and not the westward route through Sudan and Libya to Europe) due to cost, convenience, proximity, safety and presence of relatives/friends in transit countries and South Africa.
According to data from RMMS’ Mixed Migration Monitoring Mechanism (4mi), the most common push factors cited by Ethiopian migrants on the southern route are economic factors followed by political factors and positive perception about migration. Economic factors are related to unemployment and poverty while some migrants cited a sense of responsibility to family or community to send remittances. Political push factors are mainly qualified by oppression and tribal or ethnic discrimination. (See also pull factors in chart below).
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