Be Smart About South Africa

An Assessment of One of the Most Progressive Refugee Laws in Africa

A displaced woman and child from Western Tigray speak as they collect water from a tank at the school where they are sheltering in Tigray's capital Mekele on February 24, 2021. - For nearly two decades, the hilltop museum flanked by weeping willow trees showcased the military might of the Tigray region's ruling party, which dominated Ethiopian politics for decades. Located in the regional capital Mekele, the Tigray Martyrs' Monument housed weaponry and battle plans from the party's early days as a guerrilla movement, along with sepia portraits of men and women who lost their lives during its rise to power. (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP)

Ethiopia is one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in the world. It hosts more than 800,000 refugees and asylum seekers. For decades, refugees were sheltered primarily in 26 camps managed by a domestic agency, the Refugee and Returnee Service. In early 2019, the Ethiopian government won global praise for enacting a law that gave close to a million refugees the right to work and live outside camps. It was hailed as “one of the most progressive” refugee laws in Africa. For individual refugees and families, it promised better economic opportunities and the potential to become citizens. The goal of integration, outlined in Ethiopia’s National Comprehensive Refugee Response Strategy, was to improve and sustain the quality of education for refugees in hosting areas. It’s been four years since the memorandum was signed. Progress towards integration at the primary level remains slow. The parallel system remains largely intact.


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