By Alastair McPhail
World Refugee Day was observed on Thursday 20th June. On this day people around the globe commemorated the strength, courage, and resilience of the 25.9 million refugees who have been forced to flee their homes and seek safety and protection from another country. On World Refugee Day we expressed our solidarity with refugees and reiterated our commitment to uphold their rights, promote their dignity and to provide them a brighter and more secure future.
An unprecedented 70.8 million people around the world have been forced from their homes. Among them nearly 60% are refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. Ethiopia hosts nearly one million refugees, the second largest number in Africa. Life as a refugee can be very challenging and can rob communities of certain liberties and rights one takes for granted. For example, not all refugees are entitled to work and to earn a living, making them reliant on relief aid.
In January this year, Ethiopia’s parliament enacted the Refugee Proclamation. The Refugee Proclamation puts in place sound protective measures for refugees. Significantly, it allows refugees to undertake paid, formal work; it allows refugees to access schools and medical facilities; and it provides rights related to movement and assembly. The Refugee Proclamation signals a fundamental shift in how refugees are regarded. Rather than being passive recipients of humanitarian aid refugees are now seen as rights holders and agents of positive economic change. To describe this change as profound would not be an overstatement.
Over time I hope that this legislative act will contribute to a global change in how persons displaced over international borders are supported and more generally how refugees themselves are perceived. I would like to acknowledge the leadership and vision of the Government of Ethiopia and its policy and stance towards hosting nearly 1 million refugees. I applaud Ethiopia’s efforts to improve the lives of the refugees it hosts and would like to highlight the UK’s ongoing support.
Those Ethiopian communities that host refugees are not without notable development challenges of their own. The Government of Ethiopia’s ambitious refugee policies considers the needs of its citizens in Gambella, Somali Region and elsewhere. Working in partnership with UN agencies, civil society actors and donors, the Government of Ethiopia is putting in place initiatives that respond to the requirements of both refugee hosting communities and refugees. For example, in Gambella a UK funded programme managed by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has constructed a new-born intensive care unit and gynaecology ward at Gambella hospital. These life-saving facilities are now serving refugees and host communities and making a huge difference to the lives of young babies and pregnant and postpartum women. UNICEF has also constructed a water supply system in Gambella that is now providing clean, safe drinking water to more than 200,000 refugees and 33,000 people from Itang town. The UK will use other aspects of its refugee-related work in Ethiopia to bring dividends to host communities. For example, working in partnership with the World Food Programme we are testing whether providing financial support to refugees can have positive impacts on local markets and producers of food and other commodities.
Looking ahead, in December the Global Refugee Forum will take place in Geneva. The forum is a critical opportunity to build momentum towards achieving the key aims of the 2018 Global Refugee Compact. Significantly, the Forum also provides Ethiopia with an important platform to demonstrate its leadership particularly in regards to refugee self-reliance and addressing the needs of host communities and refugees in a mutually beneficial manner – which are key components of the Refugee Compact. We look forward to strong participation at the Global Forum by Ethiopia at the end of the year.
The UK is committed to working with the Government of Ethiopia to find long-term sustainable solutions to meeting the requirements of refugees in ways that benefit Ethiopian citizens. The UK acknowledges the vision of the Government of Ethiopia and the generosity of refugee hosting communities around the country.
Alastair McPhail is British Ambassador to Ethiopia, Djibouti and Permanent Representative to the African Union
By Alastair McPhail