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Ethiopia unveils 'most progressive' refugee policy in Africa

Eritrean refugees in the Mai-aini refugee camp in northern Ethiopia, which has now become a small town. Photo taken on Friday, July 29, 2011.
AP Photo/Luc van Kemenade

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 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.

Ethiopia hosts refugees from conflict-wracked neighbors like South Sudan and Somalia along with authoritarian states like Sudan and Eritrea.

Michael TEWELDE (AFP/File)

The country, which is home to one of the largest transport hubs on the continent, and also has historically strong links with the Arabic peninsula, has also welcomed refugees from further afar.

It is not unusual now to see Syrian refugees begging for charity in traffic jams in Ethiopian capital Addis - where an entry-level job often pays less than $50 per month, and a headteacher earns just above $130 per month.

"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 head of the country's investment commission Abebe Abebayehu said the revised law is part of a plan to spur employment in Ethiopia, 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.

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.

Ethiopia is experiencing unprecedented levels of optimism after the country elected Dr Abiy Ahmed to the prime ministership in April 2018. 

In his few months in power, the 42-year old politician has made a fragile peace with archenemy Eritrea, and freed political prisoners.

He also made the decision to have full parity in his cabinet, giving the important portfolios of peace, defense and health, as well as the position of attorney general to women.


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