Migrants can barely count on getting access to justice, in spite of the many hardships they face both during their travels and upon return to their communities of origin.

In the first place, some are victim of abuse and extortion at the hands of smugglers, who may even be people they know.

In addition, many migrants spend months and sometimes years abroad, and when they finally return circumstances may not be in their favour. For instance, they may have nowhere to stay because, in their absence, siblings shared their parents’ land.

It is also common for returnees to find themselves with nothing because a trusted partner has misused the money they remitted while away.

Yet, a lack of resources prevents returnees from turning to the law for what may be a lengthy civil proceeding. Thankfully, this may soon change in Ethiopia, where the Attorney General’s Office is considering amending the eligibility criteria for free legal aid and the inclusion of returnee cases in pro bono services.

This is among the recommendations of a recent assessment jointly conducted by the Attorney General’s Office and the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa (the EU-IOM Joint Initiative).

A key conclusion of the study is that legal aid services are not accessible at kebele (neighbourhood, in Amharic) level where most returnees reside. Furthermore, after years of living abroad or in detention, returnees often do not have a local identification document to present when applying for services upon return. The assessment emphasized that legal aid institutions should take this into consideration and revise requirements, to include alternative supporting documents.

Merko Melese, public prosecutor at the Attorney General’s Office, was part of the assessment team. “Most migrants return vulnerable and our main goal is to ensure that returnees’ civil rights are met. Some don’t even know they have rights in the first place.”

Melese added: “The assessment identified gaps and we are now amending our eligibility criteria and procedures. We are also closely working with our offices in the regions to ensure accessibility”.

The proposed changes will be complemented by awareness trainings for returnees on the availability of legal services as well as on how to access them.

“The EU-IOM Joint Initiative considers legal aid as an important assistance for returnees to socially reintegrate in their communities,” said Sara Basha, coordinator of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative in Ethiopia. “Our programme is closely working with the Government to ensure that the service considers the best interest of returnees.”

About the EU-IOM Joint Initiative

Launched in December 2016 and funded by the European Union (EU) Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the programme brings together 26 African countries of the Sahel and Lake Chad region, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa, the EU, and IOM around the goal of ensuring migration is safer, more informed and better governed for both migrants and their communities.

For more information please contact Helina Mengistu, email: hmengistu@iom.int, or at Regional Office: Julia Hartlieb, email: jhartlieb@iom.int and Wilson Johwa, email: wjohwa@iom.int