The first out-of-camp scheme was implemented in August 2010 in cooperation with the Ethiopian government and the UNHCR. Since 2010 thousands of refugees have left the camp to live among the host communities freely without help from government bodies and humanitarian groups after they leave camp. It was implemented by the government of Ethiopia after looking at the level of self-reliance reached and achieved by refugees in the camps near to Shire. And many Eritrean refugees have benefited from the out-of-camp scheme.
The scheme follows certain steps to be undertaken and requirements to be met before the refugees are allowed to integrate with the greater population of the host communities. First, they should stay in camp for few months to be assessed by authorities in charge, both by refugee leaders and the government’s representatives. Secondly, the refugees must have immediate Ethiopian relatives living outside the camp to sponsor the refugees during their out-of-camp stay. After the proper paper works are submitted and processed, these refugees are sent to their relatives.
The 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees states that countries are required to protect refugees that are in their territory and to adhere to the principle of non-refoulment. Meaning that no refugee is to return to the place of origin if he or she faces persecution of any kind or their freedom threatened in the country of origin. Ethiopia, in addition to the unvarying welcoming of Eritrean refugees, has put into practice the ‘refugees out of camp’ policy as long as they meet the criteria mentioned in the preceding paragraph.
Once they left the camp to live with their immediate relatives, the monitoring of these refugees is done through the cooperation of the UNHCR and the Administration for Returnees and Refugees (ARRA). Obligations required by the refugees are very limited. The refugees report at intervals ranging between one to three years. With respect to travel within or outside the country, applicants are required to meet the necessary obligations before they are granted permission. These requirements vary accordingly. Few cases are refused according to the charter of the UNHCR and the ARRA regulations. Many refugees use these portals provided to travel within the country and outside the country to visit or join their families in the first world and neighboring countries.
The “Out of Camp Policy” was initiated to improve self-reliance among refugees. OCP beneficiaries receive little assistance once they are in the city. Support and assistance mechanism in their living conditions are loose. This is because they are believed to be self-reliant. But coping with the fast-growing urban life is not an easy feat to many of these refugees. That’s why a resettlement program is viewed as a durable solution for all the refugees. In addition to this, lacking any employment opportunities or a source of income compels the refugees to look for other solutions such as a journey through the Sahara and the Mediterranean Sea to reach the coasts of Europe.
Given the fluidity of movement in and out of camps, either through the OCP process or otherwise, little is known on the exact number of refugees living out of the camps. Much more, little is known on the exact number of the OCP beneficiaries who are still residing in Addis Ababa or in other parts of the country. Many are still traveling outside Ethiopia through illegal routes with the help of smugglers to the neighboring countries.
Despite the fact that the percentage of literacy is high in Eritrean refugees, lack of skills and experience hinders them from competing in the labor market. Few have managed to succeed in this area and far less few succeeded in building their own businesses. This lack of ability to secure livelihoods prompts them to look for alternatives in the neighboring countries and European countries.
Many believe that once they get to European countries they can find jobs to secure their livelihoods or get assistance through different programs that provide housing and pocket money. Given that these refugees are supported through monthly remittances remitted from family and relatives, their only choice for self-reliance is to cross the Sahara and the Mediterranean Sea.