Author: Tsion Tadesse Abebe, Institute for Security Studies* 

This working paper analyses the cooperation between the European Union (EU) and Ethiopia on migration and refugee issues from the perspective of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) and migrant returns and reintegration. It argues that the cooperation has brought benefits to Ethiopia, such as access to funding and contributions to Ethiopia’s reputation as a ‘refugee friendly’ country. However, there has been negative social reactions to the refugee self-reliance and migrant returns policies. To improve the situation, the EU should work with its Member States to expand legal migration possibilities for Ethiopians.

Ethiopia is one of the primary focus countries of the European Union Emergency Trust Fund (EUTF). The EUTF’s support in Ethiopia focuses on two areas: Socio-economic integration of refugees in Ethiopia (via the CRRF) and return and reintegration of Ethiopian migrants from Europe.

The paper provides details regarding three projects which are supported as part of the implementation of the CRRF in Europe in Addis Ababa, Somali and Afar Regional States. They include putting in place the institutional and normative frameworks to implement the CRRF, through: a National Coordination Office and a National Comprehensive Refugee Response Strategy; the integration of refugees and host communities in the Urban Productive Safety Net Program (UPSNP); strengthening socio-economic development and enhancing economic opportunities through small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); and the construction of three industrial parks which has not started yet.

On return and reintegration, the EU and Ethiopia agreed in December 2017 on readmission procedures of Ethiopians which facilitate both voluntary and non-voluntary returns. The Government of Ethiopia is expected to facilitate travel documents, while the EU supports Ethiopian authorities on reintegration of the returnees.

The cooperation between the EU and Ethiopia provided benefits to the Ethiopian government in the form of funding. Ethiopia is the third top recipient of the EUTF’s financial support. So far, it received a total of € 270.2 million. An additional benefit that Ethiopia gained is the international recognition as a country delivering on its responsibility to host refugees, for instance by co-convening the first Global Refugee Forum in December 2019.

The negative impacts primarily relate to the Ethiopian government advancing self-reliance for refugees in the form of access to livelihoods and the right to work, which is met with some public resistance. In addition, the cooperation on return and readmission is very unpopular, largely due to the big impact of remittances on the Ethiopian economy.

The paper finds that the EU has influenced the adoption of Ethiopia’s revised refugee policy in the form of the refugee proclamation as well as the signing of the return and reintegration procedure. Funding has been the main channel for influencing the policy and procedure. Implementation of the refugee proclamation has not started. However, implementation of projects that enhance socio-economic integration of refugees is on-going in different parts of Ethiopia through EUTF funding. On return of Ethiopians from Europe, while the number of returnees from Ethiopia has increased between 2016 and 2018, it is difficult to assess this impact of the agreement including the implementation of the reintegration aspect due to the secretive nature of the agreement and the lack of oversight.

The paper argues that the EU should factor in the political, economic and social context of Ethiopia. To address and balance the potential negative impact that a push on return and readmission has on the Ethiopian government, EU Member States should consider the expansion of legal pathways in the EU and the inclusion of Ethiopia in the legal migration pilot project launched in 2018.


*Tsion Tadesse Abebe is a Senior Researcher in the Migration Programme of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), a leading policy research organisation in Africa. She is an expert on forced displacement policy and the dynamics of intra-African migration. She has extensively published on African forced displacement. Some of her publications include the Global Compact on Refugees and the link between conflict and forced displacement in Africa. She has also recently completed a research on securitisation of intra-African migration. For further publications see ISS.

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.