Author: Yoseph Genene – LLB, AAU
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. And this right is not subject to exceptions and is non-derogable even in times of crisis. Natural disasters, armed conflicts and other predicaments will result in humanitarian catastrophe. As we are currently observing countless crises destabilizing the world, numerous populations leave their homes looking for a safe place. More people than ever are fleeing their homes from conflict and disaster resulting in in more than 108.4 million worldwide displacement. In this process some manage to leave their country and enter into another country while others escape to a different place within a border.
The Ethiopian Refugee Proclamation Art 5, which integrated the definition under the OAU convention as well as the UN refugee convention defines refugees as those who have been forced to flee their country because of external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order and has well-founded persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group and most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do.
While, persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflicts, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border are called Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Globally, there are more than seventy one million IDPs which is roughly equivalent to the population of Thailand.
This blog post adopts IOM’s definition of migrants encompassing both refugees and IDPs, and which defines “Migrants”as an umbrella term, not defined under international law, reflecting the common lay understanding of a person who moves away from his or her pace of usual residence, whether within a country or across an international border, temporarily or permanently, and for a variety reasons.
Grappling with the different challenges due to internal and regional complexities, Ethiopia is similarly affected by the situations of Migrants. Ethiopia is a host to more than 930,000 refugees and asylum seekers, which makes it the third largest refugee hosting nation in Africa. Migrants in Ethiopia face a multitude of challenges that include deprivation of adequate shelter, food and health services, lack of opportunities to rebuild their livelihoods, protection risks, wider security concerns. When individuals experience displacement, they frequently lose or leave their personal identity papers, marriage certificates, birth certificates, academic or professional records and certificates and face difficulties in accessing them or approaching authorities for replacements. Armed conflicts and natural disasters can also result in the destruction of official records and archives. Sub-groups of migrants, such as women, minorities, or indigenous communities, may encounter specific challenges, as their civil status or rights were not as extensively documented as those of other citizens even before displacement. In practical terms, individuals often need to prove their identity or legal status as a prerequisite for exercising rights or receiving entitlements. However, due to limited or no access to such documentation, migrants may confront arbitrary restrictions on their rights in displacement settings.
Local integration has been considered to serve as one durable solution for Migrants in such a situation by allowing them to settle in the host community. This process provides legal status, access to basic services, and opportunities for employment. Through local integration, Migrants become part of the host community, contributing to social cohesion and stability. This solution involves the recognition of legal status, enabling access to essential services such as education, healthcare, and employment. The goal is to facilitate the full inclusion and participation of refugees and IDPs in their new communities.
In this context, having an identification document (ID) is closely linked to legal recognition, access to services, employment opportunities, protection of rights, and social inclusion. The possession of a recognized ID is essential for individuals to access various rights and basic services within the host community, including education, healthcare, and employment. Having such a formal identification document serves as evidence of legal status, preventing arbitrary detention or deportation and promoting the full participation and inclusion of refugees or IDPs in their new communities.
Ethiopia, as a party to both the OAU convention and the UN refugee convention, and in accordance with the FDRE refugee proclamation, is obligated to provide administrative support, identity papers and travel documents to refugees. A step in fulfilling such an obligation is taken with the adoption of the recent National ID program by Ethiopian Digital Identification proclamation no.1284/2023.
With its motto “identity is the new collateral”, it marks a significant stride toward inclusivity by removing barriers of inclusion of citizens and non-citizens (legal residents) and making national IDs accessible to individuals who can provide any type of acceptable evidence including an appropriate witness/es that can attest on the individual’s behalf called ‘introducer’. Additionally, the FDRE Refugees and Returnees Service, National ID Program – Ethiopia, and the UN Refugee Agency Ethiopia Office, came together to sign a special agreement aiming to make it easier for refugees to access important services like healthcare, education, banking, and driving, among others. Moreover, the National ID program executive director announced the commitment to extend the program for IDPs as part of the inclusion program.
Potential concerns may arise with the stipulation of legal residency as a prerequisite for participation in the inclusion program. This requirement poses a potential threat to the program’s efficacy, given the possibility that Migrants may not establish residence in a specific location for the mandated minimum duration of three months, as stipulated by Article 175 of the Civil Code, as referenced in the National ID proclamation.
The other concern is regarding privacy and data protection concerns. The National ID proclamation contains important data protection and privacy provisions in its fourth section. By incorporating the principle of data minimization, right to rectification, the right to be forgotten and other fundamental privacy principles; the proclamation provides that any authentication process under the digital identification system shall be done with the consent of the registrant. The information collected can be collected, disclosed, published, and can be transferred to a third party by anyone or a law enforcement body only with the registrant consent. However, it can be disclosed for the relevant legal entity authorized by law or court order without the registrant consent. In this regard, a concern worth mentioning will be the handling of biometrics data that includes personal information of refugees. Particularly, refugees flee persecution and their persecutors might track them using the data as they are communities escaping unsafe conditions, there has to be a balance between centralization of data and the right to privacy. With the absence of a national data protection governance (Draft Data Protection proclamation is approved by the Council of Ministers and waiting for HPR`s decision to be legislated), there has to be sector based and case-by-case restrictions on the use of biometrics and personal data of the data subjects. This needs to be accompanied by robust technological and legal safeguards to protect the right to privacy of individuals, particularly refugees and IDPs. Considering the novelty of the program, it can be improved through practices and emerging developments.
The measure taken by the National ID does not suggest that migrants no longer need any form of assistance or support. Rather, it signifies that the needs of migrants are not distinct from those of the non-displaced population, which might still necessitate interventions by development and human rights actors. Enabling durable solutions necessitates different but collaborative efforts among various stakeholders including national and local authorities, as well as humanitarian and development entities. In the end, inclusive approach towards migrants with the possibility of a lasting resolution could ensure the attainment of long- term peace, stability, recovery and reconstruction in nations like Ethiopia.
Yoseph Genene – LLB, AAU. MA student of Peace and Security Studies at AAU, IPSS. CSO-Lab program Mentee at Civil Society Resource Center (CSRC). Interested in Human Rights, Migration, and Peace and Security Can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org