When 25-year-old Maru dropped out of school in the tenth grade he knew that he could not survive on loans from his relatives. He decided to leave Ethiopia in January 2017 to find work in South Africa, but he never made it there. He went through Kenya and Tanzania in transit, before being arrested and held in Malawi for eight months.

Maru chose to leave Malawi and returned to Ethiopia in December 2017 with the help of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa (“Joint Initiative”). Through the programme, he received a promise of support to start a new life with his own business, and entrepreneurship training to be able to run it.

“The training helped because [I] learned how to open a business, how to analyze and select the right market, and I got a certificate [of completion],” Maru said, speaking through a translator.

Maru and nearly 500 other migrant returnees have benefitted from this entrepreneurship training in Ethiopia since May 2018, when the classes started. It is a key component of the reintegration of migrant returnees under the Joint Initiative. Funded by the European Union through the European Union Trust Fund (EUTF) with the UN Migration Agency (IOM) as the implementing partner, the training programme equips migrants with the tools, materials and support to start and run their own businesses.

“Greater and sustainable economic and employment opportunities are a strategic consideration for EUTF projects because they help address the root causes of mixed migration flows,” said Julia Hartlieb, Senior Regional Programme Coordinator for the Joint Initiative in the Horn of Africa.

“We noticed that most of the returnees had dropped out of school and worked only in the informal sector. Many wish to start their own businesses but don’t know how to. We provide entrepreneurship training for those who choose to return to their countries of origin to help them build sustainable businesses and futures,” she continued.

Once safely settled either in their communities of origin or host communities, returnees like Maru undergo a six-day entrepreneurship course that starts with business plan development; Kaizen (a Japanese word for “improvement”) management training; and additional psychosocial support that builds on the counselling sessions they receive on arrival in Ethiopia.

During the first three days, returnees receive instruction in areas such as motivation, resourcefulness and saving. This is where they develop and share their business ideas, coming up with at least three before whittling them down to one that the Joint Initiative will fund. It was at this stage that Maru said he decided to go into grain trading. His store is located in the Southern Nations and Nationalities Peoples Region (SNNPR).

“I chose to go into grain trading because I had worked with cereals before,” he explained. “The IOM and EU provided me with teff, maize and beans to start the business, but I rented the shop and a weighing machine out of my own pocket, with loans from my relatives.”

Maru with his employee and customers in his grain trading store. Photo: Uduak Amimo/IOM 2018

After developing their business plans, the returnees go through a series of assessments which evaluate their education and income levels, and identify potentially vulnerable individuals such as women, minors and people with disabilities. The technical needs assessment or Return and Reintegration Plan (RRP) then examines the viability of the business plans produced during the training. Thereafter, IOM and a local committee jointly procure the material required, which is delivered to the migrants’ homes. The materials are handed over in a ceremony that involves regional and zonal authorities as well as kebele (sub-district) leaders, all of whom are also included in the oversight of the returnees’ reintegration.

Alemayehu Abuye, Coordinator of the Bureau of Labour and Social Affairs for Kembata Tembaro Zone, explained through a translator how the community oversight works: “We have a structure from the zone down to the kebele level. Based on the business type, we assign people from the [relevant] government office… For the grain trade, there is the person from Small and Medium Enterprise Agency, and there are experts that can help the [migrants] using a checklist to follow up on their daily progress.”

There have been attempts to help migrant returnees in Ethiopia before, but through the Joint Initiative migrants are receiving end-to-end support for their reintegration into their countries of origin for the first time; their host communities are involved and, national and regional governments have a say in the training that the migrants receive.

The curriculum follows the national government’s technical and vocational education and training (TVET) designed by the TVET Bureau. The training takes place in designated polytechnic colleges in the regions of Ethiopia with the highest number of irregular migrants: Amhara, Oromia, Tigray and the SNNPR. Local institutions are keen to play their part in the returnees’ business development, so most offer their premises and materials for the training on a pro bono basis.

Tamire Defacho Jocho is a Lead Instructor in Hotel Management at Hosanna Polytechnic College in the SNNPR. He has trained about 400 migrant returnees through the Joint Initiative.

“Before starting the training we ask the migrants how much they can save,” Tamire explained. “After they have gone through the training they say ‘from each and every income, I must save. Whether 1 birr or 1 dollar, we must save by planning.’ Without saving, there is no investment.”

According to Mr. Tamire, the training is also designed to ensure that the returnees contribute to the communities they live in and society in general. Maru meanwhile seems to be doing so well that he already has an employee, after being in business for just a month and a half. He has even bigger plans for his grain trading business.

“In the future, I will provide wheat, sorghum and millet for my customers, all the different cereals,” Maru explained. “I am reinvesting my profit in the business so I will provide them within two months. I have taken some loans from relatives for more expansion so that I can also sell grains wholesale. After that, I will repay their money.”

Maru showing some of the beans bought for him through the EUTF. Uduak Amimo/ IOM 2018

The Joint Initiative works in partnership with 26 African countries, including Ethiopia. Ethiopia accounts for the majority of migrants returned under the Joint Initiative in the Horn of Africa.

The support to returning migrants is a part of the wider Joint Initiative currently implemented in West and Central Africa, and soon to be launched in North Africa. The Joint Initiative facilitates orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration management through the development of rights-based and development-focused policies and processes on protection and sustainable reintegration.