GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Border politics: Irregular migration from Ethiopia to the Gulf states
Paper Proposal Text :
Irregular migration from Ethiopia to the Gulf states occurs in three ways: ‘over-stayers’ on temporary or tourist visas, through irregular employment, and through irregular border crossings. Migrants from Ethiopia who make irregular border crossings follow the pattern of step-wise migration observed amongst migrants in other parts of Africa (Schapendonk and Moppes 2007, Cross 2009), travelling in stages over land from Ethiopia to the coast of Somalia, crossing the sea to Yemen, and travel again to Saudi Arabia or other Gulf states.
Media reports and research by NGOs over the past decade has established the appalling conditions under which these Ethiopian irregular migrants’ journeys are often undertaken: many of them are subjected to hardships such as lack of food water or shelter, physical and verbal abuse, exploitation and extortion, theft, kidnap for ransom, abandonment and even murder (Yitna 2006, Endeshaw et al. 2006; RMMS 2013). Yet contrary to popular belief, Ethiopian irregular migrants may be aware of these conditions. Recent survey research indicates that a strikingly large 80% percent of Ethiopian irregular migrants are informed about the potential dangers of irregular routes of travel, as well as the risks of detention and deportation at destinations (RMMS 2014).
Given this context, this paper seeks to critically examine recent policy developments in Ethiopia and the Gulf that have impacted on migration. In October 2013 the Ethiopian government instituted a ‘temporary’ ban on all migration to the Middle East, a ban that continues in effect to date. This was widely considered a pre-emptive response to the imminent expulsion of over 160,000 undocumented Ethiopian migrants from Saudi Arabia in November 2013, after the expiry of an amnesty for undocumented labour migrants to correct their status. While the Ethiopian government ban and the Saudi crackdown had the effect of temporarily stemming the flow of irregular migrants across the Horn of African to Yemen during the early months of 2014, by the end of the year, there was a 40% increase in the number of irregular migrants reaching Yemen by boat, possibly with the intention of moving on to Saudi Arabia to seek work. Around 80% (72,000), of these migrants are Ethiopian, and a significant number of them are circular migrants, including those who are returning after being deported.
This paper will argue that the trends observed here are similar to patterns observed in other parts of the world. The Ethiopian and Saudi Arabian policies intended to curb irregular migration have clearly had converse effects, and this is at the cost of migrants’ journeys becoming more dangerous and expensive. The paper calls for a new politics of the border that protects rather than endangers the lives of the people crossing borders.