The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) describes Ethiopia’s historic new refugee law, as ‘one of the most progressive refugee policies in Africa’ allowing refugees to obtain work permits.
The new law also allows refugees access primary education, obtain drivers’ licenses, legally register life events such as births and marriages and open up access to national financial services, such as banking. Currently Ethiopia is home to close to a million refugees mainly coming from the neighboring countries.
By August 2018, Ethiopia was home to a total of 905,831 refugees. They are primarily from neighboring South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea, as well as smaller numbers of refugees from Yemen and Syria.
Ethiopia’s parliament adopted revisions in its existing refugee law on Thursday (17 January 2019), making it 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,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
“By allowing refugees the opportunity to be better integrated into society, Ethiopia is not only upholding its international refugee law obligations, but is serving as a model for other refugee hosting nations around the world.”
Ethiopia’s revision of its refugee law comes just weeks after the UN General Assembly agreed to the Global Compact on Refugees on 17 December 2018. At the heart of this innovative new framework is a more comprehensive response to displacement in which refugees are included in national services like health and education, rather than setting up parallel systems. It also focuses on ensuring refugees have the opportunity to be self-reliant and can contribute to local economies in a way that also benefits their hosts.
UNHCR was involved in the drafting process of the refugee law revision, which was led by Ethiopia’s Agency for Refugee and Returnee Affairs, ARRA. It replaces the 2004 Refugee Proclamation which also upheld the key principles of the 1951 Refugee Convention as well as the 1969 OAU Convention, which restricted some refugee rights, like freedom of movement and access to education, and made no mention of integration.