Up to a quarter of those leaving Ethiopia to seek opportunities elsewhere are children, a factor that gives Sara Basha a sense of purpose.

Ethiopia is among the continent’s largest migrant sending countries, and Basha is involved in ongoing efforts to improve migrants’ lives. But her work is mainly focused on assisting those who opt to return home.  Based in Addis Ababa, Basha is the Migrant Protection and Reintegration Programme Coordinator for the UN Migration Agency IOM.

Around 68% of Ethiopia’s emigrants are between the ages of 18 and 30, with minors accounting for 15 – 18%. It means that over 85% of returnees are young people. “This give me a sense of responsibility and to play my part in helping them reintegrate; to work on sustainable reintegration so that they are not forced to re-migrate,” says Basha.

She is the Ethiopia focal person for the EU-IOM Joint Initiative, a programme that facilitates orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration management through the development of rights-based and development-focused procedures on protection and sustainable reintegration. The project, backed by the EU Trust Fund, covers and has been set up in close cooperation with a total of 26 African countries in the Sahel and Lake Chad, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa. Most of these countries are part of the Khartoum Process, a regional dialogue on migration between the EU and countries of origin, transit and destination in the wider Horn of Africa region, with an initial focus on addressing trafficking in human beings and the smuggling of migrants.

The EU-IOM Joint Initiative is due to celebrate its second anniversary on December 16, amid planning for the scale-up of activities. Basha says migration is a huge challenge for Ethiopia, yet concedes that it cannot be managed in isolation. “It should be integrated into the government’s development agenda and strategy,” she says. However, migration management to be effective it needs to address the root causes of irregular migration – such as poverty, underdevelopment, lack of economic opportunities and youth unemployment.

Since its launch in 2016, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative has provided assistance to returning migrants to help them restart their lives in their countries of origin through an integrated approach to reintegration that supports both migrants and their communities. The initiative has the potential to complement local development and also works to mitigate some of the drivers of irregular migration.

In Ethiopia, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative has to date provided post arrival assistance to more than 3000 returnees and medical screening to over 1830 returnees. Some  1065 returnees have received reintegration counselling while  over 445 returnees were sustainably­­­ reintegrated through various support mechanisms including economic reintegration – through which returnees are provided with medical assistance, access to education and shelter. The programme has also assisted with family tracing and reunification conducted for over 600 minors and other vulnerable migrants.

In addition to providing returnees with basic business management training and in-kind support to start up small businesses, they were also referred for access to other available government services.

Basha says the immediate goal is to set up a structure that can effectively reintegrate returnees with a proper policy guidance and referral mechanism.  Yet such efforts do not suffer from a lack of effort. IOM is already working closely with the government to strengthen a structure that can offer reintegration services to citizens when they return home. 

“The government has been offering such services at a very low scale and in a non-formal way,” says Basha. “When we started to implement the programme, we received very positive support from the government and we intend to strengthen this partnership and support structure.”