Editorial / The Diaspora / The Homeland

How the diaspora can chip in to end the plight of Ethiopian migrants

EDITORIAL   MAY 11, 2015

Plight of Migrats


iserable is the term that comes close to describing how most Ethiopians across the world felt these past weeks, following the gruesome killings of their countrymen by ISIS militants in Libya. To their dismay, the tragedy befell as many were resenting the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, besides having to cope with the news of more Ethiopian migrants dying in a Mediterranean shipwreck.

In grief and distraught, many gathered around churches holding candlelight vigils, asking for mercy, as others made impassioned pleas in public squares for retribution and an end to the misery.

The pain was personal, for many Ethiopian immigrants share the ordeal more than anyone.

Even here in the United States, not all Ethiopians came through the DV lottery or university scholarships. Many are a political or economical immigrants who had to cross deserts, sail the sea or spend part of their lives in refugee camps. They went through what their ill-fated countrymen had gone through, except they survived.

It’s their story too — but one that went really bad.

Which is why whenever a boat carrying migrants capsizes or a story of xenophobic attacks hits the headlines, many Ethiopians overseas get reminded of their recent pasts. Those tragedies could have easily been theirs few years ago. More worryingly, such could be the fate of their brothers and sisters who — in hopes of escaping poverty and persecution — are on the verge of taking the same risks at this very moment.

Shamefully, these catastrophes also point out how the migration crisis is lacking the attention it deserves. Perhaps, the world may not have learned about the barbaric killings in Libya had it not been publicized by the perpetrators for their own political agenda. But just as barbaric are the underreported organ trafficking and sexual abuses that many migrants fall prey to. The same goes to the shipwreck in the Mediterranean. If it weren’t 900 people who ran aground in that wretched boat, it is doubtful it would have even made it as a breaking news. Yet, dozens drown every week in that same sea.

As a community close to the issue, the Ethiopian diaspora has both the resource and the responsibility to mitigate this crisis.

One way of getting involved is to support the campaign against human trafficking. Especially, diaspora members who encountered the problems firsthand should be forthcoming about their experiences, so those in the homeland are well informed to make wise decisions.

The current flow of remittance also needs to be redirected.  According to a UNDP report, remittance on average accounts to 5.7% of Ethiopia’s GDP for the last five years. Another study by United Nations University shows, only 10% of it is spent on housing/land, 5% on education and 3% on savings and durable goods. About 45% of the yearly 3 to 4 billion dollars in remittance is spent on daily needs and 10% on ceremonies, suggesting much of this resource is simply maintaining the hand-to-mouth way of living for most recipients. This is neither sustainable nor would it lift off recipient families from poverty.

In fact, through remittance Ethiopians overseas are maintaining the very system they fled from, not helping it change for the better. Unless the diaspora redirects its handouts into meaningful investments, it will actually be liable for supporting the status quo in the homeland, which today youngsters are desperately running away from.

This is also true of the development assistance and foreign direct investments Ethiopia receives every year. In 2013, around 8% of Ethiopia’s gross national income came from foreign aid according to the World Bank. There are times where such financing goes against the very people it is supposed to help — unfortunately, construction bulldozers are turning out to be deadly as warfare tanks.

That’s what the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed earlier this year wherein World Bank-financed projects in Ethiopia have displaced 3.4 million people through violent campaigns of mass evictions. The World Bank has also acknowledged its shortcomings and admitted it repeatedly violated its own rules.  In such cases, the diaspora community can lobby for an equitable foreign aid in their adoptive countries. It should be noted that part of the development aid — however small — comes from the tax collected from the diaspora community itself. That alone should make Ethiopians living abroad responsible to oversee the fair usage of their adopted countries’ aid in their homeland. Equally, the diaspora should make taxpayers in donor countries aware of their responsibility to make sure their well-intentioned support is not being misused.

To these ends, it is of paramount importance for the Ethiopian diaspora to form a strong lobby group. A group that can channel the diaspora’s resources in the campaign against human trafficking; that facilitates the transformation of remittance from ‘life-support’ handouts into life-changing investments; and that pressures donor countries and investors to be accountable in their business inside Ethiopia.

The mass deportation of Ethiopian migrants from Saudi Arabia is only a recent memory. The gross human rights abuse of Ethiopian domestic workers in Lebanon continues unabated to this day. Every other month, several Ethiopian migrants are hunted down in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa for illegal trespassing. And latest reports indicate, about 1,800 are thought to have drowned in Mediterranean so far in 2015, some of whom were Ethiopians. These are all signs of migration crisis and they require the robust engagement of the diaspora.

The protests and vigils of these past weeks, no matter compassionate, will be nothing but fleeting gestures far from doing justice to the lost lives, nor can they help better the underlying situation. The only way we can honor our martyrs in Libya, the brothers and sisters we lost to xenophobic attacks and the Mediterranean, is when we make sure those whom they left behind stay away from the shores and borders — when all Ethiopian youngsters find peace and hope at home.

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