I was reading an interesting article about Ethiopian migration, and how it has changed over the years and the reasons behind it.
Ethiopia has a low emigration rate, compared to other African countries, of about 0.4%, and the phenomenon is fairly recent. According to that study, before the ‘70s there was practically no emigration from Ethiopians. The big emigration wave came during the Derg regime when many Ethiopians fled the country between the years 1974 and 1982. Another wave left the country after those years, mainly family members who reunited with relatives living abroad.
From 1991 the number of Ethiopians leaving the country has stabilized and has stayed more or less the same for 20 years. It is estimated that between 1 to 2 millions of Ethiopians live abroad.
The favorite country to migrate still remains the US which has the largest Ethiopian population outside Ethiopia. It is estimated that around 137,000 Ethiopians lived in the US in the year 2008, but if you count US citizens of Ethiopian descent the numbers rise to about 460,000!
For what I know, Ethiopians emigrating to the US have usually better chances to land a good job and build a life than those that go to Europe or the Middle East.
While the numbers of Ethiopians in the US are more or less equally distributed between men and women, suggesting the formation of families, the immigrants in countries of the Middle East are mainly women. These women are usually illegal and undocumented and they go there to work as housemaids or nannies. Ethiopian Men in the Middle East work as guards, drivers, or as manual labor in factories. The illegality puts them at risk of being exploited and abused.
Israel is a special case, since the majority of Ethiopians living there went as part of the evacuation efforts of Operation Moses and Operation Solomon carried out by the Israeli government to bring Ethiopian Jews to the country.
Europe is a very tempting target for Ethiopians due to the geographical closeness, but not all immigrants succeed to get there. Many never make it and spend years travelling through the different African countries, or die trying. The ones who get there sometimes are sent back or are imprisoned while waiting to solve their situation. This can take years, or decades…
The documentary Ethiopian Diaspora : Illusion and Reality , shows how are the daily lives of many Ethiopians living in Germany. Many are literally trapped in a nightmare; some of them can’t even work, only waiting for the day to be free. And those who can, have jobs they would never have dreamt of doing in their country; educated individuals cleaning toilets for hours and hours everyday, or working in restaurants for just enough money to survive.
And if this wasn’t enough, their families in Ethiopia expect money from them.That kind of living can ruin you mental and physical health in just a few years, and is literally a trap that you can’t escape once you enter. They can’t live decently in Europe and they can’t return to Ethiopia. They lose precious years fighting invisible enemies, very few understand them, and even less provide some kind of help.
According to a 2007 article there were about 10,300 Ethiopians living in Germany alone. Of that number, about 4,800 didn’t have permanent status including those with “toleration status” or “duldung” which seems to be the case of Tamirat in the documentary. This seems to be the worst case scenario for an immigrant.
What surprised me about this specific documentary, is how much pressure relatives still living in Ethiopia put on the backs of those who emigrate. It’s true that many immigrants don’t tell their families about their daily struggles, but it’s also true that many families don’t listen to them.
I’ve seen and experienced the expectations that many Ethiopians have from foreigners to receive money or gifts since you are considered wealthier than them, but I didn’t know it was also common among Ethiopians.
Another group that is probably not counted in the numbers of Ethiopians living outside Ethiopia, are adopted children. Ethiopian children adopted in the US and Europe are not a small number; only in 2010 some 4,400 children left Ethiopia via adoption, 2,500 of them to the US .
Since once they are adopted they lose their Ethiopian citizenship and become part of the mainstream American or European population, they are probably not included in the statistics of Ethiopians living abroad. The same will happen to their descendants who will not be considered part of the Ethiopian diaspora.
Finally, I need to highlight something about the Ethiopian diaspora. It seems that Ethiopans who emigrate, never forget their country, always dreaming of coming back, always helping their relatives. Many of them do return after decades of living abroad.
The love for their country never fades.
Understanding Ethiopian Diaspora Engagement Policy (.pdf) By Katie Kuschminder and Melissa Siegel
Ethiopian maids in a severe Arab world Radio Netherlands
Ethiopia: Middle Passage to the Middle East
Protecting Ethiopian Women in the Middle East: Advocacy Task Force Initiative Tadias
New Generation of Ethiopians March Toward Dream of Acceptance in Israel The New York Times
Supporting the Ethiopian Family through Migration By Seble Teweldebirhan – Ezega.com
The Ethiopian dream: come to America then go back home World Focus
Beyond Regional Circularity: The Emergence of an Ethiopian Diaspora By Aaron Matteo Terrazas
FY 2010 Annual Report on Intercountry Adoptions December 2010 (.pdf)
Ethiopians in Germany:
The Ethiopian Diaspora in Germany - Its Contribution to Development in Ethiopia GTZ (.pdf)
Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Germany
Germany to Regularize "Tolerated" Asylum Seekers April 2007
Living and dying in Germany April 2005
Duldung or “temporary suspension of deportation”