Ethiopian Diaspora Year - Time to scale up diaspora engagement
Migration is a phenomenon as old as humanity. However, its causes and scale spiraled with the advent of globalization. Toda, it is estimated that more than 200 million people live outside their birth place. That is almost 3.3% of the world population and it is estimated that the figure is rising by 2.9% annually.
Ethiopia is among the countries who exhibit high levelof migration. It is estimated that not less than 2 million people of Ethiopian origin are living in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Australia and other African nations.
Researches indicate that the migration of Ethiopians peaked during theperiod between 1978 and 1995. The politicaloverthrow of the Ethiopian Imperial Government in 1974, the independence struggle of Eritrea, the war between Ethiopia and Somalia between 1977 and 1978, and the civil conflict in Sudan and Somalia in the 1980s have all been mentioned as major catalysts of large scale migration.
Moreover, Ethiopians who were abroad, mostly for education, before the advent of the military regime, chose to remain in their respective countries.
Due to the dictatorial behavior of the regime, educated people in the country and farmers who reside near borders of neighboring countries lost their hope and were obliged to leave the country. Without considering citizens who left to other destinations, this made Ethiopia the top ten sources of migration in North America.
An academic paper published byMaastricht Graduate School of Governance (MGSoG)indicates that:
"Until the early 1990s, Ethiopia was one of the largest producers of migrants in Africa.....the number of refugees from Ethiopia increased from 55,000 in 1972 to over a million in 1992. Even though Ethiopia has experienced migratory flows throughout its history, the movement of Ethiopiancivilians became substantially greater in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Especially after the 1974 revolution, large migration flows started to arise. Most of the migrants from Ethiopia were refugees, escaping political conflict, famine, and persecution, often by their own government.
The refugees from Ethiopia are depicted as “[…] a mass of fleeing individuals primarily interested in safely and quickly reaching neighboring countries”.
After the demise of the military regime and the coming in to power of the EPRDF, the situation changed fundamentally. Most of the reasons that have forced Ethiopian to flee en-mass have faded.
Indeed, there is still a high level of migration. However, motives to migrate have changed over time. Now, Ethiopian migrants are motivated byeconomic motives.
The above mentioned academic paper of MGSoG) states that:
"International migration flows out of Ethiopia are relatively small. The World Bank cites an emigration rate of 0.6 percent of the population in 2005, which amounts to a stock of 445,926 persons."
Despite these improvements, the post-1991 era had its own new challenges.
With the Constitutional recognition of the right to free movement and the unprecedented access to global information, Ethiopians citizens continued to travel to other countries to get higher education opportunities, get jobs and other opportunities in foreign countries opportunities.
The main factor of migration has become seeking job opportunities and low level development in developing countries and the presumed availability of conducive atmosphere and opportunities in thedeveloped world.
Ethiopian migrants use both legal and illegal channels. The sad thing is however even those who use legal channels, such as DV Lottery Visa or work visa in middle-east, oftenlack the requisite preparedness to succeed in the destination country. Studies have shown that Ethiopian migrants generally waste1-3 years of their productive age in neighboring countries (such as Kenya, Djibouti, or Somalia) before immigrating to the west.
In fact, it can be argued that even legal migration negatively affects migrants, their family and also the wider public. Migration drains educated man power of the source country.
It is also observed that citizen’s contribution for their country, while they are outside of their home land, is limited compared to their contribution while living in their home country.
Nonetheless, stopping the movement of people from place to place is difficult and also not desirable. Moreover, there are already millions of Ethiopians in foreign countries.
Therefore, the prudent approach is to the matter is a two-sided one. Those are: Mitigate the negative aspects of the migration and create an arrangementtoengage Ethiopian Diaspora communities'role in technological and knowledge transfer, institutional and human development and technical assistance and investment.
With regard to the first, the government has been working to curb illegal human trafficking networks and improve the preparedness of those who travel on work visa arrangements to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.
Since 2012, the government has been taking strict measures to minimize and protect migrant domestic workers abroad especially in the Middle East. A National Council against Human Trafficking, chaired at Deputy Prime Minister Level, to encourage awareness of the dangers of human trafficking, has been set up and also launched a National Movement against Human Trafficking to reinforce its effort to curb this awful practice.
In conjunction with that, a National Taskforce had been set up with representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the National Intelligence and Security Service and the Federal Police to find ways to stop illegal migration by Ethiopian nationals and safeguard the interests and rights of Ethiopians working abroad.
Similarly, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has taken stricter measures.The Ministry closed down a total of thirty three agencies for involvement in illegal trafficking of domestic workers this year. It has also banned travel for unregistered domestic workers to the Emirates.
With regard to the second, the government has been consistently working to create an inviting environment for an active participation of the Ethiopian Diaspora in the national development process such as, in human capital, transfer of knowledge, technology, skills and expertise as well as other benefits that can be generated from a cooperation between Government and the Diaspora in financial, cultural and political areas.
The Government has done a great deal to firmly establish involvement of the Diaspora community in the country’s affairs, ranging from keeping the Diaspora community abroad properly informed on developments in the country’s economic, social and political environment, to working proactively to make the Diaspora active stakeholders in the country’s renaissance.
It had also formulated a Diaspora policy and particular mechanisms for engaging the Diaspora in these processes, with a clear objective of:
"Building a strong relationship between Diaspora and their country of origin and encouraging and facilitating conducive environment for participation of Diaspora on ongoing peace and democratization building process to benefit their county and to benefit from their engagement and to preserve their rights and interests abroad are the main objectives of the Policy."
Among the main goals and directions of the diaspora policy:
• Formulating a system of registration of members of the Ethiopian Diaspora
• Issuing consular identity cards for those who have no resident permit abroad; in order to reach out to them in times of need and promote their participation in development activities.
• Encouraging efforts to conclude labor agreements with the countries where there is a huge number of Ethiopian Diaspora.
• Federal, and regional' investment offices and stakeholders would be encouraged to provide all round services at one place, support members of Diaspora that will come up with project proposals, and want to participate on various areas of investment.
• The Ethiopian Diaspora shall be promoted to involve and share their experiences in import-export, tour organizations, market intelligence areas, brokerages and salesmanship activities.
• Special promotion, and credit services package shall be prepared for members of the Diaspora who wish to participate in identifying, producing and distributing commodities especially traditional handcraft products that can be marked in countries where large number of Diaspora reside.
• Package programs shall be prepared to encourage visiting foreign families who adopt Ethiopian children andyoungsters to visit Ethiopian historical and natural tourist sites and thereby promote our tourism resources.
• Employment opportunities will be provided for the Diaspora based on their request to serve in governmental institutions, education and health sectors etc. with their profession and experiences on a temporary or permanent basis in accordance with government regulations.
• Professionals who have special skills and indicate interest to work in research and consultancy that the government gives special focus on will be encouraged.
• On the job training programs in governmental and non-governmental institutions for young Diaspora students attending their higher education overseas will be facilitated.
• A mechanism will be put in place where Ethiopian Diaspora in the Middle East and neighboring countries will attend their higher education through distance learning; community schools shall be strengthened and expanded.
• Donated materials obtained from the Diaspora in the process of knowledge and technology transfer shall be facilitated to enter the country without delay and serve their purpose.
• Cultural centers will be established in foreign countries where many Ethiopian community associations exist to encourage Ethiopian Diaspora to develop skills and knowledge on their country’s languages, cultures and history.
• A program to be named “Know Ethiopia Program-KEP”, learning Ethiopian languages and cultural participation would be designed to help youth Diaspora develop strong attachment towards their country of origin.
• Mechanisms will be in place to allow Ethiopians with permanent resident permit in other countries but living in Ethiopia to take part in elections at any nearest possible polling station.
• Diaspora goodwill donations free from any religious and political attachments will be mobilized and their proper utilization will be realized.......and a system aimed at broadening their voluntary contributions will be established.
This political commitment and the institutionalization of Diaspora policies have resulted in significant changes so far.
In the economic sphere in particular, where participation is most visible and most substantial, Diaspora engagement is very encouraging. As of the beginning of 2014, nearly 3000 members of the Diaspora community are involved in investment in different sectors
The amount of capital involved amounts to close to 23 billion birr. This substantial investment portfolio not only makes its own contribution to the overall economic growth of the country, it also, and as importantly, has created more than 125 thousand jobs in the country.
The contribution of the Ethiopian Diaspora to the economy, however, is not limited to investment and job creation. Between July 2011 and March 2014 alone, Ethiopia received more than 5.6 billion US dollars in the form of remittances from Ethiopians living abroad.
Considering the significant current account imbalance of the country and the huge infrastructure projects being constructed under the Growth and Transformation Plan, these remittance receipts are indeed important. Equally, the amount of foreign money transfers is expected to increase in the near future.
Among specific examples is the engagement of the Ethiopian diaspora of Tigrai origin. As it was disclosed in the recent Tigrai diaspora festival by the Regional State President, AbayWoldu:
"The engagement of investors and business people from the Diaspora in agriculture, industry, construction, hotels and tourism showed steady growth, and now amounted to 1.7 billion birr. He told the meeting that the engagement of the Diaspora at the regional level in some 255 development projects had so far created more than 5, 000 jobs."
However, there is more to be done to enhance the role of the Ethiopian diaspora.
The next Ethiopian year, 2007, which is labeled as the “Ethiopian Diaspora Year” should be used in a concerted manner to move beyond the successes achieved so far and attain a more effective mobilization of the Diaspora in different socio-economic and political matters.
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