Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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FANA Gebresenbet, Institute for Peace and Security Studies, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

In recent years, irregular migration became a major public issue in Ethiopia and the world. One of the main areas of migration of Ethiopian migrants is Tigray. Based on extensive fieldwork in Mekelle and three Woredas from different Zones of the region (Raya Alamata, Abi Adi and Atsbi-Wonberta) and interviews with officials, experts, potential migrants and returnees in January 2017, this paper aims to establish the root causes, the routes followed by the migrants, and available policy options to curb irregular migration. A mix of macro-level/structural (such as economic, livelihood, institutional) and meso-level/cultural, (i.e., peer pressure, family pressure) factors limit the options the young have to leading a decent life in their Woreda/country, and coerce them into making the decision to migrate irregularly. The greatest majority of irregular migrants from Tigray originate from Woredas in Eastern, South Eastern, Southern and Central Zones located along the escarpment cascading down into the Afar plains. Migrants from these Woredas take the old established route, the ‘Eastern Route’, through Djibouti or Somaliland to Yemen before reaching Saudi Arabia. Recently, a new route is ‘under formation’ in Western and North Western Zones, the Western Route. Pioneered by Eritrean refugees taking shelter in the camps located there, relatively fewer migrants have started crossing the border into Sudan and heading to Libya/Egypt, taking Europe as the destination. Woredas on the older route appear to be entangled in a myriad of socio-economic and cultural factors which sustain the momentum for further migration, thus reducing policy effectiveness to curb irregular migration. Available options of establishing micro- and small enterprises, extending credit facilities, provision of skills training, awareness creation, and taking legal and security measures against ‘brokers’ ignore the agency of the young and do not appear to bring the desired change.