I came across a report on Fana Television discussing new limitations on passport issuance from Ethiopian immigration and must be befuddled by the news. The report was on amended procedures with regards to what citizens have to present in the process of applying for a passport
To begin with, when applying for a passport citizens need to provide documents that prove their citizenship, such as birth certificates, documents from municipalities, etc… as Ethiopia follows the “droit du sang” principle, i.e. nationality is granted based on being a descendant of an Ethiopian. The FDRE Constitution guarantees the right of nationals to “ enjoyment of all rights, protection and benefits derived from Ethiopian nationality as prescribed by law”, as per article 33. It further prescribes that nationals may not be deprived of his/her nationality against her will.
The new requirements to the application process requires citizens to provide supporting documents related to their reason of travel. If one is traveling for medical check up, one has to prove so by showing doctor appointments, referrals etc… If the reason is education, proof of letters showing that one has been admitted to a program. If one is traveling for vacation is the reason, a hotel booking and a booked ticket, which is quite ridiculous as one can seldom, if at all, book a ticket without a ticket!
The Fana Television reporters asked the officials what the reasons for these additional requirements were and they provided the following reasons: shortage of passports as they are not being printed in Ethiopia and the need to tame if not stop the migration of young Ethiopians looking to flee in search of a better life. In the interview the public official stated that they know that young Ethiopians from rural areas are not in a position to travel for tourist purposes. They are often preys of human traffickers who are promising them safe transit and a better life outside of Ethiopia. Unfortunately, the treacherous and traumatic and often fatal journey of being trafficked are stories reported all over the news. The waters surrounding Lampedusa are a graveyard to so many who have made the journey.
From how the official from the immigration office was explaining it, there have been many attempts to block the travel of young people who are being trafficked. I came across a group of 3 young Ethiopians on my return flight in Nairobi who were telling me that they were stranded in Nairobi because their contact in Addis told them that they will be received by a man in Nairobi who will facilitate their trip to Doha and has already secured a visa. When they arrived there, the man was nowhere to be found and when he shows up, he asks them for more money. He then takes the money and disappears and leaves them stranded. I met them as they were returning to Addis, having being disillusioned by this experience.
The legal question that screams out loud is “ whether denying passports not depriving young Ethiopians of their nationality?”. Can they be held hostage in their own country because the government is “saving them from the traffickers”? Even worse, does this not push them to make the travel in the illegal way if they are not granted the proper documentation to do so legally? Is this not even scarier? Do such moves deter young people from leaving Ethiopia or simply becomes an obstacle they need to bypass to make it to make it out of the country? Should we not rather be focused on creating the much needed jobs, opportunities? How about a real crack down on the real traffickers, the ones who have all the connections, are smaller in number than those who are being trafficked.