Amanda Poole of the Department of Anthropology published an essay titled “Porous Borders and Invisible Boundaries for Eritrean Refugees in Ethiopia” in a new publication on global migration published by the Committee on Refugees and Immigrants (CORI). Co-authored with Jennifer Riggan of Arcadia University, this article explores how Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia experience the local realities of a global paradigm shift in refugee management designed to keep refugees far from the shores of Europe.
CORI is part of the American Anthropological Association’s Society for Urban, National, and Transnational/Global Anthropology. CORI focuses on the global problems of forced migration, and the provision of refugee asylum and resettlement. The most recent CORI volume is titled “Porous Borders, Invisible Boundaries? Ethnographic Perspectives on the Vicissitudes of Contemporary Migration” and is edited by Jayne Howell, Deborah Altamirano, Faedah Totah, and Fethi Keles. The publication includes 22 essays that provide anthropological insights into the legal, social, and moral dimensions of migration. From the volume description: “This volume explores from an anthropological perspective the complexities of borders and migration: the difficulties of crossing a militarized geographic boundary, engaging in the process of moving across a social barrier delineated by linguistic, religious, cultural, or political differences, or aiding migrants’ survival through the arrival, resettlement, and assimilation process.”
The essay by Poole and Riggan focuses on refugee hosting in Ethiopia. The so-called refugee crisis in Europe has recently spawned new policy directions and applied theories that suggest both refugees and host states can benefit from refugees remaining in their regions of origin, in large refugee hosting states such as Ethiopia. While countries in the global north seek to curtail the number of refugees entering their borders, host states located in the global south, close to refugees’ home countries, are poised to work with donors to reconfigure the ways they host refugees in order to discourage secondary migration and facilitate local integration.
In Ethiopia, Eritrean refugees have been at the vanguard of these new policies that have included opening the militarized northern border to incoming refugees, and allowing greater freedom of movement and access to education than had been the practice with other refugee groups in the country. However, new policies designed to encourage Eritrean refugees to stay in Ethiopia have met with variable success, in part because porous borders for refugees who are “welcomed like brothers” also involve the construction of invisible boundaries that constrain mobility, surveil activity, and enforce dependency.
This article draws from ongoing ethnographic research with Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia to explore how these new policies are unfolding in the context of regional and historical political dynamics, and in the everyday encounters between refugees and state offices and representatives who are tasked with managing, educating, and integrating them. We argue that this apparently contradictory combination of porosity and boundary-making is a by-product of the new paradigm of refugee management in the global south and is a logical response to global policy shifts that seek to stem the flow of refugees towards the north by making host states in the global south more “hospitable.”