UN hails Ethiopia move to offer refugees jobs and banking

The revised law is part of a plan to spur employment in the Horn of Africa country

Coffee farmers offload their freshly harvested coffee cherries at a market centre for the cooperative in Holiso, at Shebedino district in Sidama, Ethiopia November 30, 2018. Picture taken November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Maheder Haileselassie
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The United Nations on Friday lauded Ethiopia's move to grant its large refugee population the right to jobs, schooling and bank accounts.

Ethiopia's refugee population of 905,000 is Africa's second-largest after Uganda and on Thursday parliament approved new regulations that the UN called "one of the most progressive refugee policies in 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 for decades," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement.

With record numbers of people being forced to flee their homes, most of the world's 25 million refugees are hosted by developing countries in camps where funding shortages often leave them short of basics like food and education

Ethiopia hosts refugees who have fled conflict, drought and persecution in neighbouring countries such as South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea.

The refugees – many of whom sought refuge decades ago and have children born in Ethiopia – are largely confined to one of about 20 camps across country. Most are not permitted to work.

The new law allows refugees to move out of the camps, attend regular schools and to travel and work across the country. Refugees can formally register births, marriages and deaths, and will have access financial services such as bank accounts.

The head of Ethiopia's investment commission Abebe Abebayehu said the revised law is part of a plan to spur employment in the country, which despite rapid economic growth still struggles with one of Africa's highest rates of poverty.

The move "is designed to create jobs and economic opportunities for Ethiopians and refugees living in Ethiopia," he wrote on Twitter.

The head of the Ethiopian Investment Commission Fitsum Arega said the new legislation was part of a $500 million programme which aims to create 100,000 jobs – 30 per cent of which will be allocated to refugees.

"This helps refugees & supports #Ethiopia's industrialization," Mr Arega said on Twitter.


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Aid workers said Ethiopia served as an example in a world where, in some regions, the rights and freedoms of refugees and migrants are being eroded.

"As some western countries have adopted xenophobic policies while turning away refugees, we are pleased that Ethiopia has passed this revised refugee law," said Stine Paus, the Norwegian Refugee Council's director in Ethiopia.

"The law will help refugees feel included and that they can contribute to society," said Dana Hughes, spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency in East Africa.

"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."

Africa's second most-populous country has been struggling with its own displacement crises in recent months as ethnic clashes have broken out across wide swathes of the country.

Around 1.4 million Ethiopians fled their homes due to violence in 2018, one of the largest numbers in the world.