Why Ethiopian migrants brave illegal crossings again – and again

Ethiopia is one of Africa's fastest-growing economies, but that hasn't stopped the outflow of migrants, underscoring the challenges countries face in trying to stem what were record levels of migration globally in 2014.

The Christian Science Monitor
By Will Davison, Correspondent
June 18, 2015

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — Among the young Ethiopian entrepreneurs idly sipping coffee near their shops in Addis Ababa, Tariku Temesgen stands out as the joker.

Wearing scarlet dungarees and aviator shades, he draws laughter by describing his routine as a ​merchant ​who has nothing to sell. “I just stand here all day staring at my empty shop,” he says, leaning against the wall of his would-be electronics repair ​store.

Like many of the shopkeepers in this complex​, Mr. Tariku doesn’t pay rent, courtesy of a government program to create jobs for returning migrants. But the nearby construction of a $475 million railway has killed traffic, ​leaving rows of merchandise ​in shops waiting for customers ​who do not come. ​ So even though Tariku has attempted unsuccessfully to migrate through Sudan five times over the past six years, he is thinking – yet again – about heading abroad to look for work.​

The horrors that many migrants confront on their illegal journeys abroad – from sexual assault​ and other abuse to drowning ​or execution ​by militants – ​are well publicized. But Tariku’s determination to repeat the experience speaks to the economic forces that have helped drive an increasing number of Ethiopian migrants abroad, despite a booming economy that has grown nearly 9 percent annually over the past four years, according to the IMF.

While the growth is dramatic, many say it has largely benefited the business class, says Michael Woldemariam, a political scientist at Boston University in Massachusetts. The “losers” include a mass of jobless graduates and poor city dwellers that struggle beneath skyrocketing living costs.

With these prospects, many young Ethiopians are willing to take their chances rather than settle for an average monthly pay of $60, intensifying pressure on the government to try to increase opportunities more broadly among the population.

“As long as you are human you always want to improve your life,” Tariku says. “If things don’t start improving here, then I might try again.” ​

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