Ethiopia Juggles Refugees and Shoppers Coming from Eritrea Amid New Peace

Shared bonds and styles: “We have a strong affinity with Eritreans,” says Mekelle resident Huey Berhe, noting how most Tigrayans have Eritrean relatives, and vice versa. “We are the same people. I can feel the agony of isolation they have endured; I have lots of friends whose families were separated by the war.” Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, Feb 6 2019 (IPS)

The sudden peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the opening of their previously closed and dangerous border, sent shockwaves of hope and optimism throughout the two countries. But a new issue has arisen: whether Eritreans coming into Ethiopia should still be classed as refugees.

“Asmara! Asmara! Asmara!” There is a new cry from the boys leaning out of minibuses picking up customers in the cities of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, which straddles the border with Eritrea. Here a minibus stops for a lunch break during its 300-kilometer journey between Mekelle, the Tigray capital, and the Eritrean capital, Asmara. The historic shift in Ethiopia-Eritrea relations means Eritreans can cross one of the world’s former most dangerous borders without a passport or permit. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

 

More nuanced reality: Eritreans cuing at the Eritrean border check point, before heading north to Asmara, illustrates how not all Eritreans want refugee status in Ethiopia, despite most media narratives leaving out the nuances and portraying an endless flow of feeling Eritreans. “I went from Addis Ababa to Asmara after the border opened to see my father for the first time in 26 years—he died 10 days after I arrived,” says Senait, an Eritrean who moved to the Ethiopian capital after marrying an Ethiopian but wasn’t able to visit her family after war broke out in 1998 between the two countries, thereby closing the border. “Now I am going back to take his brother, my uncle, to live in Asmara. It will be better for him to be with family there than in Addis. But I will return to my family in Ethiopia.” Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

 

Long awaited freedom of movement: The wide palm tree-lined avenues of Mekelle, and its marketplace, have seen a rush of Eritreans coming to reunite with family and enjoy the more vibrant social life and shopping scene, before returning to Eritrea. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

 

Long awaited freedom of movement: Once known for hosting convoys of camels carrying salt from the Danakil desert, Mekelle’s bustling market has lately seen an increase in sales of cereals, construction materials and petrol. “In Eritrea they are limited to how much they can take out of the bank each month, but here they can get money sent by relatives abroad,” says Teberhe, a Mekele entrepreneur. “They are taking back construction materials in case building restrictions are reduced at home.” Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

 

Shared bonds and styles: The back and forth over the border is helped by many people in Eritrea and Tigray having shared the same language, religion and cultural and social traditions going back centuries before Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

 

Shared bonds and styles: “We have a strong affinity with Eritreans,” says Mekelle resident Huey Berhe, noting how most Tigrayans have Eritrean relatives, and vice versa. “We are the same people. I can feel the agony of isolation they have endured; I have lots of friends whose families were separated by the war.” Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

 

Peace—but also prosperity?: “Business is pretty good,” says Tesfaye, who usually works at the cement factory outside Mekelle but at the weekend earns extra money by exchanging Ethiopian birr and Eritrean nakfa for travelers crossing the border. “It’s a good opportunity while the banks aren’t changing money yet.” The open border has seen merchandise and trade flowing freely both ways, and merchants in Tigray cities and in Asmara profiting by the uptick, with talk of only more economic activity to come. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

 

Motoring to Mekelle: Tired-looking cars with the distinctive Eritrean registration plate beginning ER1 can be seen joining minibuses on the main road through Tigray to the border or parked around Mekelle. “We’ve had lots of Eritreans staying,” says Ruta who owns Lalibela Hotel in the center of Mekelle. There’s also been a surge in room rentals in Mekelle thanks to Eritreans looking for work. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

 

Refugee process still continues: A worker photocopying refugee application forms at the Tigray office for Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs, known as ARRA. “Ethiopia is a signatory to the Geneva convention on refugees, so for now there is no change in their refugee status,” says Tekie Gebreyesas with ARRA. “The relationship between the two countries has improved, but the internal situation in Eritrea is still the same.” Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

 

Glued to the reforming prime minister: Lunchtime diners watch a broadcast showing Ethiopia’s popular new leader, Abiy Ahmed, who shocked all by offering peace to Eritrea. The dilemma that Ethiopia now faces over Eritrean refugees reflects a challenge at a global level to better understand the realities of refugee life. “Refugees are always portrayed as victims,” says Milena Belloni, who has researched Eritrean refugees for a decade. “It misses the reality, that they have capabilities and come with dreams, desires and aspirations.” Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

 

Refugees and peace not a contradiction: The Tigray city of Shire, not far from the border and where the UNHCR’s regional office is, has also seen its fair share of Eritrean arriving. A UNHCR worker who wasn’t willing to be quoted noted that around the world almost all countries receiving refugees do so while at peace with the country refugees are leaving—hence there is nothing unusual about Ethiopia and Eritrea reconciling while the refugee flow continues. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

 

Travel opens eyes: Ethiopian airlines has restarted flights to Asmara, though Ethiopians often choose the cheaper option of taking a domestic flight between Addis Ababa and Mekelle, before continuing by bus. The overall situation and options available remain fluid, and there could be even more changes ahead. “I don’t think there is any way back now for the Eritrean government,” Teberhe says. “Eritreans are experiencing freedom—the genie is out of the bottle.” Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

*Some names have been changed or omitted due to the requests of those interviewed.

A Truly Global Effort is Needed to Eradicate FGM by 2030

At Narok County, Kenya, during a discussion by anti-FGM campaigner Agnes Pareyio from Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative (TNI). The picture was taken at a school run by TNI for girls escaping FGM and child marriage. Credit: Equality Now/ Tara Carey

By Divya Srinivasan
NEW DELHI, Feb 6 2019 (IPS)

According to official data on the global prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) released by UNICEF there are 200 million women and girls in the world who have been cut. Shocking though this statistic is, it seriously underestimates the nature and scale of the problem.

In 2015, when the United Nations was in the process of adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), civil society organizations successfully led the fight for eradication of FGM to be included in the targets and as one of the 230 global indicators used to measure progress.

Target 5.3 of the SDGs now requires all 193 countries which signed onto the SDGs to take action to end FGM and to measure prevalence of FGM within their countries.

The figure of 200 million is based on official representative data which is available for only 30 countries, 27 of which are in Africa. However, small-scale data and anecdotal evidence shows that FGM is occurring in over 30 other countries, many of which have passed laws banning the practice.

This includes at least 13 countries in Western Europe, as well as Australia, Canada, Georgia, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the United States.

Thanks to growing activism from within practising communities, new information is now available that shows FGM is practised by both indigenous and immigrant communities in all continents except Antarctica.

Survivors, activists and grassroots organisations are courageously working to end FGM and have conducted small-scale research surveys to document its prevalence, provide support to affected women and girls, and advocate with legislatures, courts and local authorities to introduce and enforce legal bans.

The type of statistical information being provided is invaluable in the effort to end FGM because it pushes governments to take action and provides a baseline from which we can measure the scale and effectiveness of interventions.

However, their work is woefully underfunded and lacks sufficient international support. The United Nations, which designated 6th February as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation in 2003, has so far failed to dedicate adequate funds to eradicate FGM at a global level, particularly in Asia, the Middle-East and the Americas.

Even the UNFPA and UNICEF Joint Programme to Accelerate the Abandonment of FGM/C only covers some of the countries traditionally acknowledged to practise FGM.

The past year has demonstrated the monumental challenges faced by anti-FGM campaigners the world over, caused partly by gaps in understanding about the nature and extent of FGM in countries where it is not historically acknowledged to occur.

For instance, in India, despite the existence of independent studies documenting FGM within the Bohra community, the Indian government has sought to deny the existence of FGM in the country because of a lack of official representative data.

In November 2018, a District Judge in the U.S. state of Michigan dismissed charges brought against two doctors and six others accused of subjecting nine girls to FGM. Judge Bernard Friedman struck down a 20-year old federal law banning FGM on the technical grounds that it was unconstitutional because the power to outlaw the practise belonged to individual states, not Congress.

It is estimated that 513,000 women and girls are at risk or have been subjected to FGM in the United States. Although Judge Friedman’s ruling currently applies only to the Eastern District of Michigan, it potentially leaves tens of thousands of women and girls unprotected and in increased danger of being cut

Despite referring to FGM as ‘a despicable practice’, his order demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding about the discriminatory nature of FGM -which is carried out primarily to control the sexuality of women and girls – as well as the widespread nature of its occurrence within the U.S. The US Government has appealed against his ruling.

In August 2018, an appeals court in Australia overturned the country’s first FGM conviction in 2015 against a priest and mother from the Bohra community, who were found guilty of performing FGM on two young sisters.

Here again, the court ruling was not based on support for FGM but instead on the technical grounds that the type of FGM purported to be practised by the Bohra community, which involves cutting the clitoral hood, did not fall under the existing legal definition of FGM.

A request was put forward by the court asking the Government to consider expanding the law. FGM had been criminalized in the Australian state of New South Wales since 1994 and its definition has not been updated since then despite the World Health Organisation later adopting a more comprehensive definition and classification, which includes cutting of the clitoral hood.

The globalised nature of FGM requires not only a global response, but also a nuanced one that is tailored to meet the particular contours of FGM as it is practised in different countries or communities.

We need to update existing FGM laws and draft new ones to ensure that all types of FGM are covered within its ambit, as cutting of any kind violates the human rights and health of women and girls.

In line with target 5.3 of the SDGs, governments need to collect prevalence data on FGM in all countries where it is known to be practised, and report on their efforts to address the issue.

UNICEF is the organisation responsible for supporting countries in generating, analyzing and using dates for this target. This includes leading methodological work, developing international standards, and establishing mechanisms for the compilation and verification of national data, and maintaining global database.

The United Nations is failing in this commitment and needs to fund and pilot anti-FGM efforts in countries where it has not traditionally done so.

The medical community needs to intensify research efforts and publish disaggregated research and data that does not merely look at FGM generally, but analyses the health consequences for each type of FGM individually, particularly Types I and IV for which available medical research is scarce.

The fight to end FGM globally clearly stands at a turning point. There is rising backlash against the activism to eradicate FGM, and there is a threat of regression that risks losing hard-won gains.

For instance, in Kenya a petition has been filed asking the Court to declare as unconstitutional the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, which was enacted in 2011, and to abolish Kenya’s Anti-FGM Board.

However, 2018 also provided positive evidence that untiring efforts to end FGM through activism and legal bans undeniably work, with sustained efforts resulting in a “huge and significant decline” of women and girls across Africa being subjected to FGM between 1990 and 2016.

We need to learn from the fantastic work being done in Africa, adapt the strategies according to regional and cultural contexts, and implement them in every country where we know FGM is being practised.

Through the SDGs, activists and countries have made strong public commitments to ending FGM throughout the world by 2030. To achieve this goal, political commitments must now be put into action fully by accelerating and globalising efforts, collecting and circulating reliable data, and providing the proper funding needed to eradicate FGM once and for all.

*Equality Now is an international human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world by combining grassroots activism with international, regional and national legal advocacy. Its international network of lawyers, activists, and supporters achieve legal and systemic change by holding governments responsible for enacting and enforcing laws and policies that end legal inequality, sexual trafficking, sexual violence, and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage.

For details of the current campaigns, please visit www.equalitynow.org; on Facebook @equalitynoworg and Twitter @equalitynow.

On the occasion of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, the Geneva Centre strongly calls for the eradication of this woeful practice

By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Feb 6 2019 (IPS-Partners)

(Geneva Centre) – On the occasion of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, reiterates the urgent need to eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls, in particular FGM, which is a practice that violates women and girls’ fundamental rights such as their right to health, their right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and even their right to life.

Idriss Jazairy

The UN estimates that at least 200 million girls and women around the world have undergone some form of FGM. The procedure is mostly concentrated in countries in Africa and the Middle East, but is also common in several Asian countries. Ambassador Jazairy underscores the fact that this practice is however not limited to these regions and unfortunately occurs in Western societies at a worrying rate as well, as FGM persists amongst immigrant populations living in Western Europe or North America.

A report on Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation produced by the UN Secretary-General in July 2018 deplored the prevalence of FGM around the world and showed that in order to fully eradicate it, it was imperative to address its root causes, including gender discrimination and gender inequality, which are similar to those of other harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage. The report deplored the fact that against the background of population movement across borders, the practice was taking on global dimensions, where increasing numbers of girls and women, including those from refugee and migrant populations, were subjected to it.

Against this background, the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre noted that: “We encourage States to adopt comprehensive plans of action to eradicate FGM, taking into account the need for targeted support for groups of women and girls facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, including migrant and refugee populations, rural women, and indigenous women.”

Furthermore, Ambassador Jazairy called for a concerted effort from international stakeholders, including international organizations, civil society, grassroots movements, and lawmakers, to raise awareness about the long-lasting consequences on women and girls of this cruel and obsolete practice, which is deeply-rooted in negative norms and stereotypes, and has no grounding or standing in Islam. “This custom has an enormous damaging impact on women’s physical and mental health, and perpetrates the pervasive cycle of discrimination and violence against women and girls within societies where it is still practiced,” he said.

In this respect, the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre saluted the high-level political commitment to eliminating this practice showcased by the Government of the United Kingdom, which announced in November a £50 million pledge aimed at ending FGM by 2030. This financial commitment by the British government is the biggest donor investment aimed at eradicating FGM by an international donor. This pledge constitutes a positive step forward in raising the awareness of the international community on this woeful practice that will affect almost 70 million girls by 2030, unless drastic action is taken, according to UNFPA. Ambassador Jazairy strongly encouraged other States to follow suit.

Finally, the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director reiterated that FGM represents a gross violation of human rights, and calls for its prohibition and full eradication, in line with Target 5.3 of Sustainable Goal 5 on Gender Equality.

Financial Globalization, North-South Wealth Distribution and Resource Transfers

Yilmaz Akyüz is former Director, UNCTAD, and former Chief Economist, South Centre, Geneva

By Yilmaz Akyüz
GENEVA, Feb 6 2019 (IPS)

At a time when the world economy is seen poised for yet another financial turmoil, there is a widespread recognition that emerging economies (EMEs) are particularly vulnerable because of their deepened integration into the global financial system.   What is less appreciated is the implication of financial globalization and integration for external wealth distribution between emerging and advanced economies and resource transfers from the former to the latter.

This is the subject matter of a new study by this author on external balance sheets of emerging economies, focussing on nine G-20 EMEs (Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and Turkey) and four major advanced economies, the US, Japan, Germany and the UK.

The new millennium has seen a rapid increase in gross external assets and liabilities of EMEs, both as a result of ultra-easy monetary policy in major advanced economies (AEs) and capital account liberalization in EMEs ‒ a process of deepened integration described as Playing with Fire.

Almost 90 per cent of outstanding external assets and liabilities of G-20 EMEs have been accumulated since the turn of the century.  Although debtor-creditor relations and foreign direct investment (FDI) within the Global South have been growing rapidly, a very large proportion of gross external assets and liabilities of EMEs are still with AEs.  This is true not only for financial assets and liabilities but also for FDI. Even in China less than 20 per cent of the stock of outward FDI are in other EMEs.

At a time when the world economy is seen poised for yet another financial turmoil, there is a widespread recognition that emerging economies (EMEs) are particularly vulnerable because of their deepened integration into the global financial system. What is less appreciated is the implication of financial globalization and integration for external wealth distribution between emerging and advanced economies and resource transfers from the former to the latter.

Yilmaz Akyüz

While foreign investment and lending in EMEs have reached unprecedented levels, even EMEs with current account deficits have been able to accumulate large amounts of gross external assets because inflows of capital have often exceeded what is needed to finance deficits.  In fact, with the exception of China and Russia, which have run current account surpluses since 2000, the entire foreign assets accumulation in G20 EMEs has relied on borrowed money, resulting in significant leverage in external balance sheets.

There are also significant changes in the structure of external balance sheets of EMEs.  The share of equities (FDI plus portfolio equity) in total external liabilities increased and the share of debt declined as governments sought to shift from debt to equities by opening up equity markets and liberalizing FDI regimes on grounds that equity financing is more stable and less risky than debt.

The share of equities in gross external assets also increased, but not as fast as in liabilities. Consequently, the net equity position (external equity assets minus liabilities) of G20 EMEs taken together, which was already negative at the beginning of the century, deteriorated further.

The share of international reserves in total external assets increased rapidly as countries sought to build self-insurance against speculative attacks, often with borrowed money.  The share of local currency in external sovereign debt increased as bond markets have been opened to foreigners to pass the currency risk. But the corporate sector has come to account for a growing part of external debt of EMEs by increasingly borrowing in international markets in dollars to benefit from lower rates.

These changes in the size and composition of external balance sheets of EMEs have not only generated new channels of transmission of external financial shocks (discussed in Playing with Fire), but also resulted in significant transfer of resources from EMEs to AEs.

Resource transfers from the South to the North through financial channels will continue unabated as long as capital flows remain unrestricted, the international reserves system favours a handful of rich countries which can also pursue self-seeking policies without regard to their global repercussions.

First, they have rendered the value of their existing stocks of external assets and liabilities more susceptible to changes in global financial conditions, notably asset prices and exchange rates, leading to capital gains and losses and altering their net foreign asset positions (NFAP or net external wealth, that is, the difference between gross external assets and liabilities).

Over the short term, these valuation changes can be much more important than current account balances in the movement of NFAP, particularly at times of severe instability as was seen during 2008-09. Since foreign assets and liabilities of EMEs are mainly with AEs, these gains and losses entail redistribution of external wealth between the Global South and the North.

Indeed, there is a strong negative correlation between year-to-year changes in net external wealth of nine G20 EMEs and four major AEs in the new millennium and a large proportion of such changes is accounted for by capital gains and losses rather than current account balances.

In the long-term current account remains a main determinant of net external wealth of nations, but capital gains and losses resulting from valuation changes can also be important.   Since the beginning of the century the NFAP of most G-20 EMEs deteriorated because of sustained current account deficits.

The NFAP of two surplus EMEs, China and Russia, improved, but not as much as their cumulative current account surpluses because they both suffered large amounts of capital losses on their outstanding external assets and liabilities.

For instance, China had a cumulative current account surplus of over $3 trillion during 2000-2016 but its net external wealth increased by only $1.6 trillion. By contrast the US had a cumulative current account deficit over $8 trillion during the same period but its net external debt deteriorated by less than $7 trillion because of capital gains. Even though some smaller G-20 EMEs also had capital gains, the nine EMEs taken together suffered capital losses in the order of $1.9 trillion during 2000-2016 while the four AEs enjoyed capitals gains over $1.6 trillion.

Second, with the expansion of gross foreign assets and liabilities, international investment income receipts and payments have gained added importance in the current account. Generally, EMEs are red in net international investment income not only because their external liabilities exceed assets, but also because the rate of return on their foreign assets falls short of the rate of return on their foreign liabilities.

Their liabilities are concentrated in high-yielding equities while a large proportion of their assets consists of low-yielding reserve assets. For this reason, even some EMEs with positive net external wealth positions such as China and Russia have deficits in net international investment income.

Furthermore, all EMEs including China earn lower return on their outward FDI than they pay on inward FDI. They also pay more on their external debt liabilities in risk premia than they receive on their external debt assets including reserves (US Treasuries), other bonds or deposits abroad.  The shift to domestic currency debt by governments of EMEs has widened the return gap between debt liabilities and assets because the exchange rate risk assumed by foreign investors needs to be compensated.

By contrast, the return differential between external assets and liabilities is positive for all four major AEs.  The US registers the highest positive return differential and runs a surplus on its international investment income balance despite having a negative net external wealth in the order of some 25 per cent of its GDP.

The return on its outward FDI is higher than in all other countries and exceeds by a large margin the return it pays on its inward FDI. As the country issuing the dominant reserve currency, the US also earns higher return on its external debt assets than it pays on its external debt liabilities (mainly Treasuries), thereby enjoying what is commonly known as “exorbitant privilege”.

The nine G-20 EMEs taken together have been transferring around 2.7 per cent of their combined GDP per year in the new millennium mainly to AEs as a result of the negative return gap between their foreign assets and liabilities and capital losses resulting from changes in asset prices and exchange rates.

These resource costs are incurred in large part because EMEs favour a particular structure of external balance sheets (highly liquid low-yielding assets, less liquid high-yielding liabilities) that is believed to be more resilient to external financial shocks.

This means that, in effect, EMEs are transferring large sums of resources to AEs in order to protect themselves against the shocks created mainly by policies of the very same countries. This is underpinned by an international reserves system that allows a handful of reserve-issuing countries, notably the US, to constantly extract resources from the rest of the world.

On the other hand, it is not clear if EMEs can adequately protect themselves against shocks when capital can move freely. Judicious use of capital account measures can secure reasonable protection while avoiding such costs.

For instance, one would not need to issue high-yielding liabilities to acquire large stocks of low-yielding reserves assets as self-insurance if inflows of fickle capital are effectively controlled.

Resource transfers from the South to the North through financial channels will continue unabated as long as capital flows remain unrestricted, the international reserves system favours a handful of rich countries which can also pursue self-seeking policies without regard to their global repercussions.