1. The right to work of refugees
The right to work is one of the fundamental human rights recognized by different human rights instruments. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) under its Article 23 declared the right to work as a fundamental human right.
For refugees, the right to work is vital for reducing vulnerability, enhancing resilience, securing dignity, and integration. The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees recognize the right to work of refugees including their Right to housing, education, welfare assistance and social security, Freedom of movement, ID documents and travel documents.
To implement the right to work of refugees there are Legal conditions required by refugee law and other national laws. The variety of legal conditions related to the right to work and other legal restrictions on the right to work such as work permits, restricted business sectors, an encampment of refugees, and restrictions on freedom of movement.
In September 2016, at the UN summit on addressing large-scale movements of refugees and migrants, 193 member states unanimously adopted the New York declaration, a common plan for addressing large-scale movements of refugees and migrants. The declaration highlights the elements of a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF).
Ethiopia’s commitment to protecting refugees has been long-established and most recently further strengthened. After the adoption of the New York declaration, in 2016 on the Refugee leaders’ summit co-hosted by Ethiopia, the government of Ethiopia (GoE) accepted to implement the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) by presenting highly significant pledges to strengthen the rights and privileges enjoyed by refugees in Ethiopia. The core objectives of the Framework are to ease pressure on the host countries, enhance refugee self-reliance, expand access to third-country resettlement solutions, and support conditions in countries of origin for safe return.
Following the decision of GoE to implement CRRF, in 2019 the GoE revised the 2004 refugee proclamation. The main focus of the revised proclamation is on durable solutions through local integration of refugees by allowing the refugees the right to work and freedom of Movement by revising the existing out-of-camp policy (OCP).
The revised proclamation has introduced fundamental changes to the existing refugee framework. One of the major improvements of the proclamation is it permits the right to engage in gainful employment. Hence, refugees can secure lawful work without discrimination on the basis of their refugee status; access labor protections that safeguard them from exploitation or wage theft; Earn a fair wage.
GoE was ambitious towards a more comprehensive refugee response, becoming one of the first countries to initiate the implementation of the United Nations-backed Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF). Since 2019 GoE and other International humanitarian organizations are implementing CRRF in selected areas where refugees and host communities are relatively easy to integrate and stable. For example, Currently, the GoE and some humanitarian organizations are implementing CRRF in the Somali region Fafan Zone. Currently, there are three refugee camps in the area.
It is also important to note that to implement CRRF there should be freedom of movement for refugees out of camp. The nine pledges of GoE have also included out-of-camp policy (OCP) by stating, “Expansion of the out-of-camp policy to benefit 10% of the current total refugee population.” In relation to this, in 2010 GoE introduced OCP for Eritrean refugees to provide them the opportunity to live in Addis Ababa and other non-camp locations of their choice. For its implementation, eligibility criteria include the availability of necessary means to financially support themselves, relatives or friends who commit to supporting them and also an absence of criminal records while being sheltered in a camp.
OCP in general aims at allowing refugees to live alongside their hosting communities, and to benefit from existing opportunities, and become productive global citizens. OCP on the nine pledges made by GoE is applicable to all nationalities hosted by Ethiopia. Accordingly, GoE planned to provide resident permits for almost 75,000 eligible refugees in rural and urban non-camp locations. This number is in addition to those refugees who have already possessed OCP status.
Different government agencies like Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), ministries, and international humanitarian organizations like UNHCR and other Implementing Partners are involved to materialize CRRF. (Source: Information gathered from ARRA)
2. Why are refugees in Ethiopia refusing the right to work?
Creating economic opportunities for refugees by the GoE and international partners is facing challenges at the inception stage of CRRF implementation. There are many reasons why CRRF faces challenges in Ethiopia. As part of CRRF, to integrate refugees with hosts, refugees (in some refugee camps) have been requested by GoE to obtain a Resident permit of Ethiopia. Nevertheless, refugees who have been offered to obtain resident permits have rejected the offer.
Providing resident permits for refugees could pave the way to access services provided by GoE and enable refugees to use their rights provided under Ethiopia’s Refugee proclamation. Once refugees have resident permits it is easy for them to integrate with their hosting communities and this leads them to remain in Ethiopia. It is also important for refugees to have resident permits because it enables refugees to access social services. For example, Access to Banking and Financial Services, rationing, telecommunication services, driving license etc.
‘Locations, where refugees reside, may condition the quality of access to work in both the formal and informal sectors.’ For example, some refugees in Addis Ababa are engaged in an informal job, opening a business, owning property or capital. Hence, it is not clear which government agency provided them with a business license to engage in such activities. Such acts of refugees might create an impediment not to claim labor rights protection, property rights, and the freedom to join unions by refugees. On the other hand, it is obvious that when refugees who have possessed the status of OCP are denied the right to work, they are doubly disadvantaged by not being able to access employment and the frequently contingent benefits and rights merely provided by laws.
What surprises one who follows about refugees in Ethiopia is that refugees tend to participate in an informal job by moving from camps to nearest towns without the permission of ARRA. However, they are reluctant to engage in formal employment due to different reasons. Here, we have to ask why refugees in Ethiopia are refusing the right to work in a formal way and integration?
Since this issue is a recent phenomenon It’s not easy to answer this question without conducting an assessment in areas where comprehensive refugee response is currently implemented by GoE and international partners. Yet, since there are some observable reasons why it’s challenging to implement the CRRF, we can mention some of the difficulties and issues to be considered by comprehensive refugee response framework executing organizations.
- Lack of a clear policy document for the OCP and lack of clear eligibility criterion for refugees, on facilitating opportunities for self-reliance.
- Lack of coordination between different CRRF implementing governmental and non-governmental (humanitarian) organizations. Even if, GoE planned to foster the expansion of partnerships with diverse UN agencies, traditional and non-traditional donors, private-sector organizations and foundations, international and national NGOs, civil society, media, academia, refugees and host communities, and other stakeholders, yet from the government side there is lack of expanding stakeholders and coordinating CRRF implementing partners.
- Due to Lack of sufficient awareness about CRRF by implementing organizations, refugees, and host communities, implementing organizations lack confidence in implementing CRRF, and due to this, refugees are reluctant to participate in formal employment.
- Delay in enabling laws of revised refugee proclamation. Since there is no enabling law for humanitarian organizations implementing CRRF, it is not clear for all stakeholders what to do or not to do while implementing CRRF activities.
- Most refugees in Ethiopia need resettlement in 3rdcountries (developed countries) rather than working and integrating with the host community in Ethiopia. Thus, they fear losing their right to resettlement in 3rd country if they participate in a formal employment and integrate with the host community in Ethiopia. So far, the refugees are not communicated regarding this issue by concerned organizations.
- The refugees have a perception that, if the government lets them go out of camp in search of their own job, they have a fear that they might lose all the rights they have as a refugee.
- There was no consultation made with refugees and the host community concerning organs while implementing the comprehensive refugee response.
- Some refugees (Insignificant in number) are Economically self-sufficient with a source of income from their relatives who already settled in the 3rdcountry. Therefore, these refugees are unwilling to accept the pledges, they are just waiting for resettlement to 3rd country.
- There should be clear enabling laws to execute the rights provided by the refugee proclamation. Without enabling laws, trying to implement CRRF is a waste of time and resources. In addition, there should be a clear understanding of CRRF objectives, government policy, and laws by the implementing organizations, refugees, and Host community.
- Since CRRF is new for Ethiopia, ARRA and UNHCR should take the initiative to create Awareness for implementing organizations, refugees, and host communities about CRRF and the revised refugee proclamation.
- GoE, Civil society, National NGOs, International Humanitarian organizations, media, and academia should take part in creating awareness about CRRF for refugees and host communities.
- GoE has planned to increase enrollment of refugees in school, to expand irrigation infrastructure for refugees, to provide agricultural inputs for refugees, to establish industrial parks, to expand and enhance basic and social services such as health, nutrition, reproductive health, HIV and other medical services provided for refugees…etc. This plan could be achieved if only international donors assist GoE by financing the sectors in which the refugees will benefit from.
- Study shows that ‘countries are facing pronounced labor market pressures from the combination of refugees and rapid growth of the domestic labor force from a demographic increase.’ GoE should consider this and put some conditions for refugees who are going to partake in formal employment and integration.
- ‘Since conditions governing the right to work are usually complex, refugees should have access to information and due legal process. However, the evidence shows that refugees often lack the means or the willingness to pursue their legal entitlements to work or protection in the workplace. Vulnerability to injustice and unfair treatment is compounded when the judiciary and police lack knowledge of refugee law and rights.’ To protect their rights, refugees should access Information and legal aid services from concerned government organs and NGOs.