Integration and Identity among Refugee Children in Ethiopia: Dilemmas of Eritrean and Somali Students in Selected Primary Schools of Addis Ababa

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Addis Ababa University


The purpose of this study was to analyze the practices and dilemmas of integration and preservation of identity of urban refugee children in Ethiopia. In this study, comparative case study design was employed. Two refugee communities in Addis Ababa, namely, Eritrean and Somali refugees, were selected as cases. Six primary schools in Addis Ababa accommodating Eritrean and Somali refugee students were selected as research sites. The major sources of data were refugee students, primary schools principals, primary schools teachers, refugee parents, urban refugee central committee members, host community representatives, and experts from ARRA, UNHCR, DICAC-RRAD, and JRS, and documents. Sample from target population was drawn purposefully using criteria for each target population. A total of 98 individuals were drawn as sample in this study. In addition, six classroom observations and six observations of refugee students in and around the six primary schools compounds were undertaken. Instruments of data collection used include interview, focus group discussion, observation and document analysis. Findings of this study revealed that refugee policy in Ethiopia has mixed characteristics of openness and restriction, and as a result, in Ethiopia, while quantity of asylum is acclaimed, quality of asylum can be criticized on grounds of legal reservations to and restrictions on the basic rights of refugees including movement, employment, and education. All letters, directives, and guidelines from MoE on refugee education in Ethiopia are mainly preoccupied with provisions for the recognition of prior learning of refugee students. Provisions regarding the processes of integration and the practices to preserve the identity of refugee students are totally missing in the letters, directives and guidelines. The actual roles that MoE and AACGBE are playing in urban refugee education in Addis Ababa are, at best, peripheral. ARRA is playing the major role in the provision of education to refugees. As the result of the interplay among various factors, in Addis Ababa, while Eritrean refugees and the host community have established positive relationship, the relationship between Somali refugees and the host community is fraught due to various misunderstandings. There are strong controversies between Eritrean and Somali refugees on the one hand, and UNHCR, ARRA and other NGOs working on urban refugee program in Addis Ababa on the adequacy of subsistence allowance and the phased transfer of refugee students to government schools. The overall experiences of integrating Eritrean and Somali refugee students in the primary schools of Addis Ababa suggest that integration, from the point of view of agencies and school authorities, is degenerated to just physical placement of refugee students into the schools together with local students, particularly through the phased transfer to government schools. There are no formal school based approaches to facilitate celebration and promotion of Eritrean and Somali refugee students’ identity in the primary schools of Addis Ababa. Primary schools are striving to make refugees identify themselves with their Ethiopian co-ethnic groups. Hence, primary schools, due to lack of awareness and resources, are striving to form a contrived identity to refugee students. Due to their dispersed settlement, the preference for disguised existence, positive relationship and better degree of integration with host community due to cultural compatibility, Eritrean refugee parents are struggling to justify to their children how Eritrean identity is distinct, particularly, from that of Ethiopian ethnic Tigreans. The concentrated settlement of Somali refugees in visible communities in Addis Ababa and the practical utility of Somali religion, culture and language for their day-to-day life, left Somali refugees in Addis Ababa to be less integrated with the host community. In order to learn, maintain, and transmit their distinct identity, Somali refugees in Addis Ababa rely on the family, media, religious organizations (i.e., Koranic schools and Mosques), and private language schools, which are competing in many terms with the primary schools accommodating Somali refugee students. From the findings of this study several implications for policy and practice were suggested. Initiating comprehensive and explicit refugee policy in Ethiopia; designing arrangements that can facilitate synergy between the MoE’s expertise in education and ARRA’s expertise on refugee issues; facilitating forums and resources that can promote proper information flow among all stakeholders in urban refugee education; developing clear guidelines on the integration and preservation of identity of refugee children in Addis Ababa schools; developing capacity of agency personnel, refugee communities, school authorities, and teachers on the implementation of refugee students integration and identity; designing programs for the inclusion of refugee education in the teacher training programs and developing degree program on education in emergencies are the major implications of the findings