The East African Refugee Experience: Issues of memory, identity, and history

free essaySocial mobility and migration have always been the main factors shaping population density in East Africa. Migration has many positive as well as negative effects. For instance, migration has always had a significant effect on world geography, contributing to cultural change and development and the diffusion of ideas and innovations. Moreover, migration can significantly change ethnic composition of different regions. Therefore, it is interesting to analyze the history of migration in Eastern African countries and its impact on genetics and economic status of population. [1: William A. Haviland, Anthropology: The Human Challenge. (New York: Cengage Learning, 2011), 4]

Anthropologists usually discuss both ends of migration process. They usually ask people many questions like: what prompts people to leave particular communities, what happens to them when they arrive at the place of destination, how they remain connected to their place of origin. Thus, immigration is a complex phenomenon. [2: Caroline Brettell. Anthropology and migration: essays on transnationalism, ethnicity, and identity. (Oxford: AltaMira Press, 2003), 1] [3: Hans Peter, Cultures of Migration: African Perspectives. (Berlin: Transaction Publishers, 2007), 9]

Nevertheless, immigration is neither determined by external factors, nor is caused by a decision of an individual. A transfer to a new region is always a risky and dangerous decision. Very often upon arrival immigrants face hostility and feel unprotected by the government as well as society. That is why they are trying to preserve their cultural elements. For example, they create specific communities. Very often culture of migration in East Africa is established by conflicting relations between refugees and local people. Therefore, it is important to analyze how immigrants manage to establish relations with local people and to preserve their own cultures. [4: Hans Peter, Cultures of Migration: African Perspectives. (Berlin: Transaction Publishers, 2007), 10]

Defining immigration

There are times when a country experiences extreme refugee movements. Immigration is usually caused by certain economical or cultural factors or political instability in the country. In common parlance, refugees are people displaced due to persecution, war, or conflict, who have fled across the border and are in need of international humanitarian assistance. Immigration cannot be only defined by the push and pull factors. It is not enough to study immigrants alone, their motivations, movements, transitory places and the countries of their final destination. That is why it is extremely important to analyze the culture of immigration. [5: Jacobsen Karen, The Economic Life Of Refugees. (Bloomfield: Kumarian Press, 2004), 4 ] [6: Hans Peter, Cultures of Migration: African Perspectives. (Berlin: Transaction Publishers, 2007), 13]

Various cultures of immigration have been established through the years. Young immigrants also have a specific vision of immigration. Some younger people are trying to assimilate into a new place, while others stick to family traditions. They are next generation and their behavior will define the future of their community. Nevertheless, it is important to stress that culture is not viewed as a certain pattern of behavior. It is best described as momentous results of an interactive process among people and between them and their surroundings. Thus, it is established through the long process of interaction with local people. [7: Hans Peter, Cultures of Migration: African Perspectives. (Berlin: Transaction Publishers, 2007), 15]

Unfortunately, many immigrants face conflicting negotiations, among immigrants themselves and between them and other groups. Nevertheless, refugees face different challenges. For example, they generally acquire an inferior status in society. It is an extremely important decision to cross the border and start living in a new place. Moreover, refugees always require support from the new country`s government People who have just fled across the border are technically asylum-seekers; in order to acquire a refugee status they must first be assigned the status by the state. That is why when immigrants do not receive support from local communities they create their own culture and refuse to assimilate into a new country. [8: Hans Peter, Cultures of Migration: African Perspectives. (Berlin: Transaction Publishers, 2007), 13] [9: Jacobsen Karen, The Economic Life Of Refugees. (Bloomfield: Kumarian Press, 2004), 4]

That is why immigration becomes deeply ingrained in the repertoire of people’s behaviors, and values associated with immigration become part of the community values.As a result, people develop a certain culture of immigration. Modern transportation and telecommunication make it possible for many diaspora communities to remain in contact with relatives and friends. [10: Caroline Brettell. Anthropology and migration: essays on transnationalism, ethnicity, and identity. (Oxford: AltaMira Press, 2003), 3] [11: William A. Haviland, Anthropology: The Human Challenge. (New York: Cengage Learning, 2011), 410]

Location of refugee camps is also an important topic. The reason is that whether refugees choose to settle in urban or rural areas, or to live with humanitarian assistance in camps and official settlements, will affect their economic experience in the host country. Therefore, it is important to analyze some historical examples of immigration. [12: Jacobsen Karen, The Economic Life Of Refugees. (Bloomfield: Kumarian Press, 2004), 7]

Immigration from Sudan to Ethiopia

To start with, Ethiopia has always been the center of refugee flows. For example, the overthrow of the Ethiopian Imperial Government in 1974, the war between Ethiopia and Somalia in 1977 and 1978, and the civil conflict in Sudan and Somalia in the 1980s have all been mentioned as major catalysts of large involuntary movements of people in the region. The majority of refugees still come from the neighboring countries such as Sudan or Somalia. [13: Bariagaber, A. States, International Organizations and the Refugee: Reflections on the Complexity of Managing the Refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa. (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 1999)]

Of course, people usually immigrate to wealthier regions in order to seek for economic opportunities. Nevertheless, the war and other conflicts contributed to refugee migrations from many East African countries. For instance, by 1985, about 72,000 refugees from the Republic of South Sudan had sought asylum in Ethiopia. [14: Bariagaber Assefaw. Conflict And the Refugee Experience: Flight, Exile, And Repatriation. (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), 81]

Sudanese Civil War forced many people to immigrate to neighboring countries, such as Ethiopia. Recent conflicts in Darfur region also contributed to migration from Sudan. Since 2003 the conflict in Sudan took half a million people`s lives and as many as a 2.5.million people had been driven from their homes to refugee camps. That is why immigration becomes a very serious political issue in Ethiopia. In fact, when people migrate from one place to another, as individuals or as groups, they affect the immediate and future development prospects of the source of their movement, the place of origin, their destination, and the new place of residence. [15: William A. Haviland, Anthropology: The Human Challenge. (New York: Cengage Learning, 2011), 410] [16: Jonathan Baker, The migration experience in Africa. (Mali: GOTAB, 1995), 122]

That is why Ethiopia always faces many challenges caused by such refugee movements. A substantial Ethiopian population is constantly growing. For instance, recently due to the war in Sudan alone, more than 2.5 million people have been driven from their homes. [17: William A. Haviland, Anthropology: The Human Challenge. (New York: Cengage Learning, 2011), 410]

Ethiopian government had to resolve the problem of a tremendous flow of refugees. For example, it is always important to provide the newcomers with land. Because land is an extremely valuable element of each nation, it always caused many conflicts. In East Africa the continuously changing interrelations between population movement and the development process are intricately bound to the changing geographies of the countries of the region.

That is why location of refugee camps is also an important topic. The reason is that refugees` decision whether to settle in an urban or rural area, or to live in humanitarian refugee camps and official settlements, will affect their economic experience in the host country. Ethiopian government is constantly trying to preserve its capital. For example, in 1986, the Ethiopian government made land available for a second refugee camp; however it did not make land available for cultivation. Thus, the government did not provide necessary support to Sudanese refugees, who settled in rural areas, depriving them from vital economic opportunities. [18: Jacobsen Karen, The Economic Life Of Refugees. (Bloomfield: Kumarian Press, 2004), 7] [19: Bariagaber Assefaw. Conflict And the Refugee Experience: Flight, Exile, And Repatriation. (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), 81]

One of the reasons for this decision could be the possible change of rural markers. If Sudanese refugees were provided with land this could change the role of commercial sector in the country and undermine the market development.

Moreover, rural population of Ethiopia is quite numerous. For instance, in 2006 83.7 percent of the population was living in rural areas, and 16.3 percent was living in urban areas. As a result, most people depend on agriculture and are not willing to share their land with immigrants. Some would think that refugee settlement schemes are located in rural areas and therefore the land and water are in abundance, and their viability depends on these and other factors such as large start-up capital and skilled bureaucracy. Nevertheless, Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia had no access to many facilities and for bathing and dishwashing they had to use contaminated water. [20: Stephen Lubkemann, The Anthropology of Refugees and Displacement (George Washington University, 2004), 4] [21: Bariagaber Assefaw. Conflict And the Refugee Experience: Flight, Exile, And Repatriation. (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), 83] [22: Bariagaber Assefaw. Conflict And the Refugee Experience: Flight, Exile, And Repatriation. (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), 96]

Ethiopian government was not ready for appropriate maintenance and administration of camps. One of the reasons for this politics is that Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the Eastern region. Ethiopia faces complex challenges of food insecurity, overpopulation, drought, political instability, and ethnic conflicts and large challenges in regard to immigration flows. That is why refugees and other immigrants did not receive any support from Ethiopian government and had to search for different means of survival. [23: Stephen Lubkemann, The Anthropology of Refugees and Displacement (George Washington University, 2004). ]

Of course, regional politics has a serious impact on refugee camps administration. Moreover, immigrants also face difficulties, such as racism and discrimination. For example, Ethiopian governments played a main role in pushing refugee flows by oppressing certain ethnic groups within society and by striving for political centralization. These factors also contributed to the establishment of a strong culture of immigration, which bounded immigrants together. [24: Bariagaber, A. States, International Organizations and the Refugee: Reflections on the Complexity of Managing the Refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa. (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 1999) ]

Ethiopia was also impacted by immigrant flows from other neighboring regions. For example, Somalia settlements in Eastern Ethiopia have also been increasing over time. Nevertheless, Ethiopia was not hostile to these immigrants. One of the reasons is that Somalia has long been known as a refugee country because it provided asylum to more than one million Ethiopian refugees in the early 1980s. Despite this fact, Ethiopian government was still unable to provide Somali refugees with proper support. [25: Bariagaber Assefaw. Conflict And the Refugee Experience: Flight, Exile, And Repatriation. (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), 90]

That is why Somali refugees were ready to return to their country. The Somalis have viewed Ethiopia with suspicion and there was no reason why they would settle there for good. Moreover, Ethiopian government was not willing to place refugees in the middle of the region. Thus, Ethiopian government generally preferred to settle them in camps located as close as possible to the borders of their home country. [26: Bariagaber Assefaw. Conflict And the Refugee Experience: Flight, Exile, And Repatriation. (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), 91] [27: Bariagaber Assefaw. Conflict And the Refugee Experience: Flight, Exile, And Repatriation. (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), 92]

In addition, repatriation is a common phenomenon, which helps former refugees return to their homes. For example, there were two large-scale Sudanese repatriations from Ethiopia over the last four decades; some of them were peacefully repatriated, while others had been repatriated due to the fact that the military regime in Ethiopia was about to collapse. [28: Bariagaber Assefaw. Conflict And the Refugee Experience: Flight, Exile, And Repatriation. (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), 131]

It is also necessary to stress that immigration as well refugee movements is seriously shaping genetics of African countries. Of course, African people have diverse genetics. There are many different cultural, linguistic and ethnic groups. That is why it is possible to analyze how immigration influences genetic differentiation in particular countries. By studying genotypes many scholars found it possible to identify the geographic origin of most individuals. [29: Michael Crawford, Anthropological Genetics: Theory, Methods and Applications. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 27]

For example, immigration of Sudanese people to Ethiopia influenced genetics of east Africans by creating similar chromosomes. For example, nowadays a human Y-chromosome DNA haplotype is present at moderate to high frequency in East African Sudanese and Ethiopians and it is absent in other African populations. Overall, despite the fact that immigration is always accompanied by negative effects, such as the lack of economical opportunities or governmental support, it makes significant changes in genetics of African population. [30: Michael Crawford, Anthropological Genetics: Theory, Methods and Applications. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 363 ]

Conclusion

Immigration in Eastern African countries has a serious impact on genetics of African population, development of immigration cultures as well as composition of refugee settlements. In fact, social mobility and migration have always been the major factors shaping population density of East Africa. For example, Ethiopia has always been the center of refugee flows from the neighboring countries, such as Sudan and Somalia. That is why it was interesting to analyze refugee movements to Ethiopia.

Anthropologists start analyzing immigration from investigation of different factors that make people immigrate. There are many push factors, which contributed to immigration in East African countries. Of course, people usually immigrate to wealthier regions seeking for better economic opportunities.

Nevertheless, the war and other conflicts contributed to refugee migrations from many East African countries. Sudanese Civil Wars always forced many people to immigrate to the neighboring countries, such as Ethiopia. In addition, recent conflicts in Darfur region also contributed to migration from Sudan.

A transfer to a new region is always a risky and dangerous decision. Very often upon arrival immigrants face hostility and feel unprotected by the government as well as society. In addition, various immigration cultures have been established throughout the years. Very often culture of immigration in East Africa is established due to conflicting relations between refugees and local people.

Thus, it is established through the long process of interaction with local people. Nevertheless, refugees face different challenges and generally acquire an inferior status in society. Immigrants also face difficulties, such as racism and discrimination. That is why when immigrants do not receive support from local communities they create their own culture and refuse to assimilate into a new country.

Immigration becomes a very serious political issue in Ethiopia. Ethiopian government has to resolve the problem of a tremendous flow of refugees. For example, it is always important to provide the newcomers with land. That is why location of refugee camps is also an important topic. Moreover, Ethiopian government was not ready for appropriate maintenance and administration of camps. One of the reasons for this politics is that Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the Eastern region.

Somali settlements in Eastern Ethiopia have also been increasing over time. That is why Ethiopian government is constantly trying to preserve its capital. Thus, the government did not provide necessary support to Sudanese refugees, who settled in rural areas, depriving them from vital economic opportunities. Moreover, rural population of Ethiopia is quite large and most people depend on agriculture.

Because Ethiopian government is not able to support refugees, many immigrants ask for repatriation. Repatriation became a common phenomenon, which helps former refugees return to their homes. Nevertheless, despite repatriation, refugee movements are still seriously shaping genetics of African countries.

For example, immigration of Sudanese people to Ethiopia led to creation of similar chromosomes, which are unique to people of the East African region. Overall, immigration has diverse impacts on population of the host country and can even change its genetics.