When the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia opened on 11 September 2018, there was a huge influx of Eritreans entering Ethiopia. Despite the border closing again in May 2019, the number of Eritreans crossing continues to remain high.
More than 10,000 Eritrean asylum seekers fled to Ethiopia within the first twenty days of the border reopening, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and between 250 and 300 people are still crossing it daily.
Currently, more than 170,000 Eritrean refugees are living in Ethiopia. The UNHCR reported that an influx of refugees and an under-resourced host community have led to a deterioration of living standards.
Younger men and women often choose to move from overcrowded refugee camps to urban areas, such as Addis Ababa, where they struggle to fit into the local job market and pay skyrocketing rent prices.
“Rent is becoming very expensive in Addis Ababa and, even when you can find a job, you can barely pay the bills,” said Abinet, a young Eritrean working as a taxi driver. Rent on a one-bedroom flat is between USD 150 and USD 200 – a large amount to find each month.
While many Eritreans are benefiting from Ethiopia’s new refugee law, enacted in January 2019, many others are finding it difficult to integrate and settle. Many Eritreans lack academic credentials to easily join secondary and tertiary education, and others find it difficult to compete in an economy with a large unemployed youth population.
These circumstances, combined with the fueling political turmoil in Ethiopia, are pushing many Eritrean refugees to consider further and riskier irregular routes to reach Europe via Sudan and Libya.
“We are aware of the risk and we all know what’s happening there,” a young Eritrean woman said about Libya. Migrants can face detention, kidnap and torture at the hands of militia in the north African country, even before attempting the perilous sea crossing to Europe.
A few other Eritreans are also heading to Uganda through Kenya, where they can have better chances to invest, work and study.