Since President Meles Zenawi, who led the country from 1995 until his death in 2012, established an open-door policy toward refugees, Ethiopia's refugee population has swelled to about 700,000, making it the largest in Africa. And due to ongoing crises in neighbouring countries such as South Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia, that number is growing: in the first week of October about 31,000 people seeking refuge streamed from South Sudan into Ethiopia's western region.
In recognition of the burden borne by Ethiopia in housing hundreds of thousands of refugees, the UK, the European Union and the World Bank are planning to create 100,000 jobs in the country. This is part of a new approach to tackling the migrant crisis afflicting Europe and Africa.
The initiative seeks to address problems in housing and unemployment through the building of two industrial parks at a cost of $500m, with Ethiopia required to grant employment rights to 30,000 refugees, who would usually be excluded from employment in the country.
"It's a creative, innovative and out-of-the box way of tackling the problem, which is something we need more of," says Zemedeneh Negatu, managing partner of EY in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and an economic adviser to the government. "It's a perfect fit for Ethiopia with its refugee numbers while undergoing industrialisation--this wouldn't work in any other country in East Africa."
In her keynote speech at the UN summit on refugees in New York this September, UK prime minister Theresa May described the project as "a model for how we can support host countries create jobs for their own people and refugees--a mutually beneficial solution and one we must replicate."
The initiative is part of a pilot programme supporting Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Mali, in addition to Ethiopia, reflecting a shift in developmental aid toward a focus on economic transformation in developing countries.
Not being able to work in Ethiopia is a source of enormous frustration to refugees, many of whom remain stuck in the country for years as they apply for asylum in other countries.
"It's a form of psychological killing living here. Because we aren't allowed to work we are hopeless," says a 33-year-old Congolese man who fled to Ethiopia five years ago to escape fighting and government persecution of his minority Banyamulenge tribe.
The industrial park deal, according to the international partners involved, has helped encourage a major shift in...