As the last research team of the Postgraduate Training Programme, we travelled to Ethiopia in mid-February to conduct research on the local integration of refugees and the implementation of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF). Some people at Addis Ababa airport wore face masks to cover mouth and nose; travellers from China were controlled. Other than that nothing indicated the emergency of a pandemic. Our partners at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) at the University of Addis Ababa invited us to set up our improvised offices in their conference room. Together we conducted interviews at national level with various actors of the Ethiopian refugee policy. At the beginning of March, we moved on to Jigjiga, the capital of the Ethiopian Somali region, which is home to around 200,000 refugees. Thanks to our research partners at Jigjiga University, we quickly arranged interviews with experts, for example in regional and local administrations. The interviews demonstrated that the „local integration of refugees“ has a high priority for the interviewees and their institutions, but also that the national government’s plans have so far only been implemented partially. Our goal was to identify best practices by comparing three municipalities and different sectors.
The views of the refugees and the host community were incorporated through focus group discussions and a comparative survey of 2000 people affected.
At that time, no COVID-19 case was confirmed in Ethiopia. Therefore, we were even more astounded when we were informed in mid-March that we had to return to Germany earlier than planned. In the following days we worked hard to organise our early return. Meanwhile COVID-19 had its first effects: The first case in Ethiopia was confirmed and appointments were postponed due to emergency meetings for COVID-19. At our hotel, disinfecting hands upon passing the gate became mandatory.
We worked intensively to enable our partners to continue the research in our absence. The roll-out of the survey started after our departure. However, the situation developed faster than expected: In order to slow down the further spread of COVID-19, the Ethiopian government closed the public administration. In Jigjiga, exit restrictions were imposed; this also brought the survey to a standstill. Still, in one of the municipalities the survey was completed. Apart from the implications for our research, we are deeply concerned by that news, as neither the Ethiopian social system nor the health care system can cope with a pandemic. At the same time, large parts of the population have no access to running water; additional expenditures on disinfectants and face masks are barely affordable for many households – both Ethiopian and refugee households. Meanwhile, the locust plague is intensifying and is becoming even more difficult to control.