Some 155,207 Eritrean refugees currently live in Ethiopia, home to nearly a million refugees – the second largest refugee population in Africa

By Tom Gardner (Reuters) |

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA (Thomson Reuters Foundation)―A ban on Eritrean refugees working in Ethiopia is hampering efforts to reduce illegal “secondary” migration, with tens of thousands risking violence and drowning in pursuit of a better life, the Overseas Development Institute said on Thursday (March 2).

“Ethiopia is a vital country of asylum, offering the prospect of freedom and security,” said the British think tank, but it added: “Refugees are not allowed to work in Ethiopia, making it hard to build a future in the country.”

Hence, it said, most Eritrean refugees living in Ethiopian camps wanted to escape to a third country in the hope of winning work, security and a settled life.

About 5,000 refugees flee Eritrea each month to escape poverty, political persecution and the prospect of potentially indefinite military conscription.

Some 155,207 currently live in neighboring Ethiopia, home to nearly a million refugees – the second largest refugee population in Africa – thanks to its open-door asylum policy.

But in 2014, 84 percent of Eritreans interviewed in Ethiopia said they planned on‘moving to another country’, while around two-thirds pursued so-called secondary migration in 2015, according to Amnesty International.

“People tend to give life a go in neighboring places – Sudan, Ethiopia – and only turn to options further afield once they realize those situations aren’t tenable in practice,” Richard Mallett, one of the report’s authors, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Many are then destined for Europe, undeterred by increasingly restrictive immigration policies, with Eritreans forming the fifth largest group of irregular arrivals on European shores in 2016.

Most crossed from Libya, the most dangerous route over the Mediterranean, exposed to violence, torture by smugglers, and the deadly risk of the sea itself, according to a report by Medicins Sans Frontieres published last month.

According to the ODI report, those who embark on the often perilous onwards journey from the Horn of Africa do so despite the promise of comparative freedom and security in Ethiopia, and the livelihood support policies, such as loan and training programs, offered by NGOs there.

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