Resettlement programmes, which relocate refugees from temporary camps to Western host countries, have a number of objectives. On the one hand, they protect vulnerable refugees, on the other, they can be seen as a measure to prevent irregular migration. Given that it is not possible to apply for asylum before entering a country, resettlement is one of the few legal channels available to Eritreans to get to Western countries. As a virtually cost-free option, it has become the ultimate lottery for many. Yet those who apply end up paying a heavy price in other ways.
The dream of resettlement – known as buufis in the Somali language – is a common state of mind for many refugees in Dadaab camp in Kenya. A psychological condition created by a longing or desire for resettlement that becomes a constant preoccupation, it creates a toxic combination of hope and disillusionment among Somali refugees in Kenya. The state of limbo has been known to cause adverse psychological effects when resettlement hopes are not realised.
The same can be said of Eritrean refugees living in Ethiopia, who dream of leaving through resettlement. While sacrificing other options, such as moving freely and potentially working in urban areas, refugees get stranded indefinitely in camps, waiting for the outcome of their resettlement applications.
Resettlement shapes the way people think about their futures, but it also shapes their aspirations. For instance, Negesti, who is 34, arrived with her children in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2013. Her husband had left before them, but she has not been able to find him. Now on her own, she is worried about her children’s education and struggles to earn enough to feed them and meet their basic needs in the expensive Ethiopian capital, where refugees have few rights. She has applied for resettlement but without fully understanding the procedure. While waiting without a timeframe, the young mother is left with more questions than answers. Every day she wonders why she has not been called for an interview.
The US – which resettles 97 percent of Eritreans according to recent estimates, resettled only 1,783 individuals in 2015. With President Donald Trump’s January 27 travel ban, refugees were temporarily barred from entering US soil. Despite Eritreans not being included in the ban, refugee resettlement interviews have been put on hold in the region.
By offering the possibility of a different future, the hopes of resettlement compels people to stay put for long periods of time. Based on our interviews with single mothers it may also lead women to compromise their wellbeing, for the sake of their children’s futures. We found that many mothers made the choice of resettlement so that their children would not have to grow up in a refugee camp.
Women refugees are also aware that migrating to Europe through irregular means often involves extortion and physical and sexual abuse along the way, including detention and torture in transit countries such as Libya. On the other hand, if they remain in Ethiopia, their children will not be able to attend school. Left with little choice, they pin their hopes on being resettled in a safe, third country.
While aspirations of resettlement can initially prevent irregular migration, the effect dissipates over time. Our research found that as refugees fail to migrate through formal channels, the idea of irregular transit becomes more tolerable, and often the only available means.
People told us that they consider the resettlement process unfair, with specific nationalities and demographics receiving preferential treatment. During our interviews, many complained about alleged corruption in the resettlement allocation process, with some cases being expedited.
This article has excerpted from: ‘Can resettlement prevent