Bethelihem Tesfatsion is a successful businesswoman, who has sold thousands of hand-stitched Eritrean dresses worldwide, but she operates in the shadows, waiting for Ethiopia to make good on its promise to allow refugees to work.
As an Eritrean asylum seeker, Bethelihem, 29, is not eligible for a work permit, so she got an Ethiopian friend to put his name on the business licence in 2017 when she opened her shop in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
“It doesn’t feel like the brand is mine,” said Bethelihem, who left Eritrea five years ago to get treatment for a kidney problem and never returned—like tens of thousands who flee the tiny Horn of Africa country every year, citing political repression and lengthy military conscription.
“You always fear you do something that you’re not supposed to do, that someone from the government is going to come after me.”
Home to Africa’s third largest refugee population, Ethiopia won praise in January for passing a law giving some 700,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers who have fled conflict, drought and persecution the right to live outside 26 camps where they are currently hosted.
But eleven months after the Refugee Proclamation was announced—allowing refugees and asylum seekers to work, open bank accounts, legally register births and marriages and attend primary school—Bethelihem is frustrated Ethiopia has yet to pass further legislation to bring it to life.
“I am very disappointed,” she said, as her sister and aunt busily packed a traditional white cotton dress with colourful edging to send abroad, while passers by glanced in at the elegantly-dressed mannequins in the window.
“We are sick of (waiting) because we have the capacity (to work).”
Politics may be preoccupying Ethiopia’s leaders. Deadly clashes and protests have erupted following democratic reforms introduced by Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed since 2018, which lifted the lid on long-repressed ethnic tensions.
“The government has certainly not backed away from its commitments but it’s not a top priority,” said one aid worker who declined to be named.
“They have a lot on their plate,” he said, adding that allowing refugees to work could add to the strain, amid high unemployment.
As the UN readies for the first Global Refugee Forum in Geneva on December 17—which aims to identify best practices to support refugees and get donors to make pledges—Ethiopia is seen as exemplary for seeking to boost refugees’ self-reliance and ease the burden on host nations.
Eritrea, a country of 5 million people, is the world’s ninth largest source of refugees, with some 500,000 registered.
One in three Eritrean refugees live in Ethiopia, one of Africa’s poorest countries despite impressive growth.
Many of the 20,000 Eritreans in Addis Ababa find it hard to survive as they do not have the right to work and rely on informal jobs where they risk being exploited, a study by Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre found.
“Some of them are really struggling,” said Bethelihem, who makes half of her sales online, mostly via Facebook and Instagram, to Eritreans in the United States, Europe and Australia who spend up to 9,000 Birr ($299) on outfits for special occasions.
“They engage in child labour to support themselves (and) prostitution.”
The UN allows Eritreans to live in the capital if they can prove they have financial support from friends or family. But remittances are not a reliable source of income and many Eritreans in Addis Ababa work as poorly-paid waiters, hairdressers or plumbers, Bethelihem said.
“Family members in the diaspora are desperately wanting the refugees to take care of themselves,” said Bethelihem, whose sisters work with her in the shop, having also left Eritrea to escape indefinite national service, which Human Rights Watch has said includes hard labour and physical abuse.
Refugees can already register births and marriages, open bank accounts and buy mobile phone SIM cards, said Addisu Kebenessa, deputy director general of the government’s Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affairs.
“Most of the Proclamation is already implemented,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that work and residence permits are the two “remaining tasks”, with a long-term goal of ending refugee encampment by 2030.
Addis Ababa’s Nefas Silk Polytechnic College offers a hopeful vision of a more inclusive world, as donors struggle to provide for record numbers in need of aid and US and European hostility to refugees and migrants grows.
Dozens of refugees and Ethiopians learn cooking, sewing, welding and mechanics side-by-side on the course, run by GIZ, the German development agency, which is the first of its kind in Ethiopia.
“We treat the refugees as regular students,” dean Melese Yigzaw said.
One of his students is Ayda Gebremichael who left Eritrea with her husband and three children five months ago. They plan to build a life in Addis Ababa if they can find decent work – with a dream of moving to Canada in future.
“Sometimes, I forget that I am a refugee here,” said Ayda, 28, as she took a break from her sewing class, where students concentrated on their machines, the floor littered with scrap fabric.
Bringing the two groups together to study can also reduce tensions that often erupt when large numbers of refugees arrive, overwhelming local services – a problem faced from Germany and Jordan to Brazil and Kenya.
“We have to make sure both refugees and host communities benefit from our interventions,” said Moges Tamene, a programme manager with DanChurchAid, which works with refugees throughout Ethiopia.
“So far it has never been the case,” he said, highlighting camps in the western Gambella region where South Sudanese refugees outnumber locals and receive clean water, while Ethiopians a few kilometres away drink from a river.
Ethiopia has promised to create 30,000 jobs for refugees as part of its industrialisation drive, but Bethelihem is not interesting in working in a factory where garment workers earn about $26 a month, according to the New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.
“Nobody will go there,” Bethelihem said. “We have the capacity to be self-reliant and even to support the host community.
—Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
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Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.