Amanda Poole began
an ethnographic research project on refugee policy and the care of refugee
youth in Ethiopia in 2015. This project is a
multiyear and multi-sited study conducted in collaboration with Jennifer
Riggan, a political and educational anthropologist at Arcadia University. This research explores how projects and
policies designed to care for and educate refugee youth are experienced by
Eritrean refugees living in Ethiopia, how these policies shape the relationship
between refugees and the host state, and ultimately, the impact of these
policies on the migration decisions of Eritrean refugees. One important
component of this research looks at refugee youth education.
does education play in enabling refugees to envision a positive future in their
host country, trust its government, and decide to settle there? In light of the
mass influx of migrants to Europe, encouraging refugees to settle safely in
their regions of origin has become a critical concern for international
organizations, leading to a renewed focus on the pivotal role that refugee
education plays in securing the stability and well-being of refugee populations.
Education may provide a sense of normalcy, give hope to youth who may otherwise
seek destructive outlets, promote healing, and convey skills for resolving
conflict. However, studies of refugee education rarely explore the values and
purposes of education for refugees themselves, or how migrants perceive social
opportunities afforded to them by education. The question of how education
configures the political agency of refugees and whether it influences refugees’
decisions about whether to stay in the host country or move on has seldom been
A popular restaurant in a refugee camp in
the largest refugee hosting nation in Africa, and the fifth largest globally,
Ethiopia’s role in designing model refugee policies and programs makes it an
ideal site in which to study how providing education to refugee youth affects
refugees’ decisions about whether to migrate onward or stay in the host
country. Ethiopia opened the first camp
for Eritrean refugees in 2004, and now hosts over 100,000 Eritrean refugees in
Ethiopia not only cares for
unaccompanied youth in refugee camps, but provides education in camps and local
community schools, and has initiated a refugee college scholarship program.
Educating these youth is seen as central to curbing the secondary migration of
refugees out of Ethiopia, but there is little data about the efficacy of these
programs in either the short or the long-term. A study in 2015, reported by the UNHCR, found that over 80,000 Eritrean
refugees were missing from camps where they had been registered.
research is significant on a number of levels. We fill a gap in the growing
anthropological literature on humanitarianism and refugees by focusing on
refugee education—a topic that has been largely ignored. Given that education
plays a substantial role in developing political agency, particularly in times
of conflict, our research has the potential to greatly increase our understanding
of refugees as social actors, not merely victims.
We also challenge dominant theories of the
African state, typically viewed as weakened by globalization, by exploring the
emergent politics at micro and macro levels that form as African states manage
the flows of people across borders. On
an applied level, we aim to inform aid organizations working in Ethiopia by
shedding light on the well-being and struggles of refugee youth as they navigate
programs established to care for them.
Beyond Ethiopia, this research is
relevant to policy-making on secondary migration, as it will help illuminate
how and why refugees make migration decisions and how the programs designed to
stem migration are working and are experienced by refugees.
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