Is the state fuelling the migration industry? The migration economy of Metema

By Admin|January 27, 2021|Blogs|0 comments

Metema is an important hub for international migration from Ethiopia to Sudan, with many Ethiopians, Eritreans and Somalis, mainly men, hoping to go onwards to Libya, across the Mediterranean and eventually on to Europe. On a daily basis, in 2017/18, 40 to 90 Ethiopian migrants crossed to Sudan using a temporary tourist visa. For those who lack any documentation, illegal crossing points stretch through the desert around Metema and along the border with Sudan. There are two ways by which migrants make their way through the desert: either simply walking through it or using false documentation to pose as a Metema resident permitted to cross the secured border. According to the cross-border agreement, residents of the two border towns can cross during the day without any documentation required.

Networks of brokers play a significant role in all these processes, although it may not be strictly necessary. For the services brokers provide (mainly transportation and job linkage), migrants are expected to pay from $185 up to $800, depending on place of origin. Eritreans and Somalis intending to travel beyond Sudan, pay from $3,000 to $7,000. The fee charged by brokers, however, changes based on nationality, destination country, existence of social network, season, political changes and state relations. It is these changes in the migration industry and the connection between both irregular and regular structures of migration that has been dealt in my research, with a focus on the state.

Besides regulating migration, the state is involved in the migration industry along this route, both directly and indirectly. In the regular channel, migrants are expected to register at immigration and nationality affairs bureaus, to take training and get approval from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in order to take employment overseas. In the process of facilitating migrants’ journey, e.g. by providing soft-skill training or approving work contracts, the state demands fees from the labour migrant, ‘legal’ broker (locally known as an agent), and employer. Through attempts to manage and regulate migration, the state indirectly contributes to the irregular channel as well. Strict state control systems against human trafficking and smuggling and overseas employment opportunities, create more profitable business for brokers. Broker services that used to cost migrants $185 five years ago have now risen to $741. In the meantime, vulnerability of migrants is higher under such circumstances where individuals put themselves at risk of dehydration, hunger, exhaustion, robbery, poaching (by other brokers) and being sold from one broker to another.

There are also reports of the existence of the state in the broker network. Government officials from the police, border security and customs are directly involved in issuing kebele IDs for migrants, facilitating movement using government-owned vehicles, providing alerts on security checks and assisting with an easy pass through the border undetected. There are also claims of higher government officials running and providing protection to broker networks. This shows the migration industry is not only fuelled by broker-migrant relation but also the state.

A state-incorporated business: the migration economy along the Ethiopia–Sudan border town of Metema

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By Kiya Gezahegne

Lecturer at Addis Ababa University

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