SOAS University of London

SOAS expert gives evidence at International Development Committee on Forced displacement in Africa

4 December 2018

Laura Hammond, Professor of Development Studies at SOAS University of London and Challenge Leader for Conflict and Displacement for the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), has given evidence at International Development Committee’s inquiry on forced displacement in Africa. The inquiry is examining Department for International Development’s (DFID) work to support refugees and internally displaced people in Africa, particularly East Africa.

The first part of the session examined DFID’s work on migration and forced displacement and how this fits in with the wider UK Government policy and strategy on migration. Professor Hammond noted that there was lack of joined-up overall policy on migration, but that she did not necessarily think was a bad thing:

“There is a real danger of instrumentalising development policy in the interests of fulfilling migration objectives. We know that particularly when we are talking about forced displacement and forced migration, we are talking about people who are compelled to move because they have no choice, as they lack safety. Really, in many cases they literally fear for their lives. The objective of bringing down numbers of people coming into the UK should not be muddied with issues of providing protection to people who really need it. Those are the obligations of the UK under international law, and that should be the objective of development: to think about the ways of attacking or confronting the drivers of forced displacement, and that is where development can really make a difference.”

The session then addressed the root causes of migration and its impact on DFID’s work. Professor Hammond said: “the UK’s approach to root causes…is to focus on what might be seen as the apolitical or technical drivers of migration, such as climate change and economic instability or stagnation…They do not really explain the key question of irregular migration, which is what we agree is the thing that really concerns us about people being at risk.

“The thing that makes people fall into that risk category is much more political. It is about political repression, marginalisation, exclusion, discrimination …, in the variety of different forms that it comes. I work particularly in the Horn of Africa, so you see this in a variety of different countries. There is still a deficit in terms of thinking about the ways in which the political economy of the environments in which people are operating has a direct impact on their ability to stay or to move.”

Professor Hammond also discussed Ethiopia’s approach to refugees and internally displaced people: “Ethiopia has had a changing approach towards its refugee populations, particularly from the early days of the war with Eritrea, when they had a very hostile and suspicious approach towards refugees. That relationship has thawed and warmed quite a lot in recent years. Refugees tend to be housed, for the most part, in camps, though we know that there is a very large urban refugee population, particularly in Addis Ababa but in some of the other cities as well.”

She also discussed the Ethiopian jobs compact, where £80 million was invested by DFID: “none of us would disagree with the idea that refugees should be given the right to work wherever they are, and that that helps to ease the burden of providing assistance, when people are able to help themselves. It helps to keep their resilience strong as well. However, refugees, for the most part on the move for political reasons, also have protection issues…”

“…I would not say the jobs compact is necessarily a bad idea, but it needs to be done in a very careful way, with a lot of sensitivity to what the wider implications are of creating jobs for these people. There is a gender component to that as well, which is that these new industrial parks that are being created are for the most part so far textile factories, which employ large numbers of women. It is not clear that the refugees who are in search of work are actually the workers that are being sought by the employers. There are really important questions like that to look at.”

The full session can be viewed at Parliament TV and Professor Hammond’s written evidence can be found here.