Professor Amanda Poole presented a paper titled “The Political Life of Stateless People: Eritrean Refugees in Ethiopia.” Co-written with a colleague, Jennifer Riggan of Arcadia University, this paper drew from research conducted in Ethiopia during Poole’s sabbatical in fall 2016.
In recent years, tens of thousands of Eritreans have fled across the border into neighboring Ethiopia, which is now the second largest country of asylum for Eritrean refugees (hosting 131,660 in 2015), as well as the largest refugee hosting nation in Africa overall.
The fact that Eritreans are fleeing to Ethiopia—their country’s long-time adversary and the nation against which Eritrean nationalism has been constructed—challenges common depictions of refugees as depoliticized victims and refugee camps as global spaces of care and control divorced from regional politics and local socio-political dynamics.
In the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, along the disputed border with Eritrea, global humanitarianism now shapes projects of refugee management, education, and aid, and provides the context for the recalibration of political identities. Long-term camp infrastructure has rapidly been expanding in four camps along the border since 2004.
Some Eritreans have been living as refugees in these spaces for over a decade now, while others have moved on via dangerous networks of human trafficking. Poole and Riggan's paper draws from ethnographic research in camps in northern Tigray in 2015 and 2016 to explore the question: How are the political identities of Eritrean refugees recalibrated in the context of refugee management in Ethiopia?
This paper argues that the passing of time, central to the lived experience of camp life, is critical to understanding people’s decisions to stay or leave, the agency they have as stateless people, and the kinds of social differentiation that are taking shape among contemporary Eritreans.