Bringing together the activities of multiple agencies towards stronger migration governance in Ethiopia

Mengistu Dessalegn and Likimyelesh Nigussie.

Under the AGRUMIG project in Ethiopia, team members Mengistu Dessalegn and Likimyelesh Nigussie discussed with government agencies and development partners how complementary activities could enhance migration governance and management in the country.

Ethiopia is an important outmigration country and, under the federal structure, many different agencies are involved in overseeing migration. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MoLSA) is one of the main government agencies involved. During discussions, we learned that overseas labor migration could be arranged through government-to-government relations, via agencies or individually arranged job contracts. Officials indicated that they explore ways to improve the benefits of migration, including establishing bilateral agreements with labor-receiving countries, particularly in the Gulf States. These agreements are expected to strengthen lawful overseas employment, thereby improving the benefits of labor migration, accompanied by pre-departure orientation provision which is intended to increase awareness of overseas labor migrants’ rights and obligations.

Key informants at MoLSA highlighted the benefits of migration in terms of contributing to development through creating job opportunities and income, as well as facilitating the transfer of skills and technology. They emphasized that migration would “never stop” but, in equal measure, stressed the importance of discouraging “irregular” migration in collaboration with external stakeholders. As well as facilitating labor migration, the ministry – recently renamed the Ministry of Labor and Skills – also runs a program to help reintegrate returnees into society.

The Ministry of Agriculture also promotes job creation activities that are largely focused on agriculture, including crop and livestock production. Key informants in MoA saw migration in a different light, as revealed in discussions. They maintained that the rural job creation activities they are involved in could help young people to “stay in rural areas.” They assumed that when jobs were created and production grew, migration “would decrease.” They insisted that “if job opportunities are created in rural areas, these will tackle the economic problems that drive outmigration.” Their related concern in assisting potential migrants to stay was that rural outmigration affected agricultural labor availability, with knock-on effects in the sector.

The Federal Ministry of Justice is another government agency whose functions involve migration issues, particularly in the policy sphere. At present, the preparation of a migration policy is in progress. Prepared under the leadership of the Ministry, migration policy development is an extension of an earlier mandate whereby a National Partnership Coalition was established for the “Prevention of the crimes of trafficking in persons, smuggling of persons and unlawful sending of a person abroad for work.” The realization that migration encompasses broader issues is an important factor behind the initiation of the new policy directions. One key informant at the Ministry indicated that “We started taking part in developing the policy by considering that it would be difficult to prevent smuggling and trafficking without looking at the migration context as a whole. Migration has become a development issue. It is also a human right. We realized that if migration is unavoidable, it should be governed.”

In the absence of an overarching national migration policy framework, the past trend has been incremental change through issuing piecemeal legislation. During discussions, the importance of a national migration policy framework was stressed. “When there is a policy framework, there will be a cooperation framework. It will be possible to solve problems through cooperation. If there is no framework, there will be no leader.” The new migration policy document will consider broad migration issues, including migration and development, and migration and human rights. Preparation of the policy through the coordination of the secretariat of the national Partnership Coalition under the Ministry of Justice has been finalized and submitted for review and endorsement at a higher level.

We also spoke to the government’s development partners on migration issues, including the International Labor Organization (ILO). Playing a key role, the international labor organization provides information on regular and irregular migration to enable migrants to make more informed decision and follow a regular migration path. In terms of migration activities in Ethiopia, the ILO is engaged at a policy level as well as at a more technical level providing support in the preparation of migration-related government legislation. This includes recent support in the preparation of the government’s overseas employment legislation as well as providing support to the reintegration of returnees in Ethiopia. ILO also supports activities that promote decent labor migration through skills development and by providing support to Technical and Vocational Educational and Training (TVET) centers.

The European Union (EU) also plays an important role in contributing to migration management. This includes provision of support for return and reintegration processes, thereby facilitating the reintegration of return migrants into the society. Supporting government initiatives related to the decent job creation agenda is another sphere of engagement that contributes toward migration management.

At a regional level, the Intergovernmental authority on Development (IGAD) puts in place legal frameworks and invests capacity development. Legal frameworks include migration policy and a road map on free movement of people in the region. The roadmap enables receiving countries to utilize migrants’ money, skills, knowledge, and/or labor, whilst encouraging migrants to take regular migration routes. For effective implementations of the legal frameworks, key informants indicated that IGAD invests in human and institutional capacity development, focused on familiarizing staff from relevant institutions with different policies and rules. Investment in capacity of institutions focuses on helping member states develop and keep comparable migration and labor market data in the region and to harmonize migration data from different offices of a member state. For example, in Ethiopia, it aims to harmonize entry-exit data with immigration office data, diaspora data with foreign affairs data, and labor migrant data with MoLSA data.

In order to build a stronger and more coherent migration governance environment, the following interrelated action points are suggested as a result of our key stakeholder engagement:

  • It is important to establish a national migration governance framework that brings relevant migration management stakeholders to facilitate effective inter-institutional coordination among government and non-government agencies involved in migration issues.
  • This should involve the formulation of a cross-sectoral migration working group to deal with existing challenges and formulate joint policy pointers that can enhance migration governance.
  • Develop national migration platforms and networks whereby joint migration governance initiatives and practices can be widely disseminated and discussed so that more coherent migration governance plans and actions can be outlined.
  • Migration agendas should be proactively mainstreamed in different relevant government sectors to develop and enhance complementary migration management activities.

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