Tekalign Ayalew, Assistant Professor, College of Social Sciences, Addis Ababa University and affiliated researcher, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University

Social embeddedness of human smuggling in East Africa: Brokering Ethiopian migrants to the Sudan

Clandestine migration and migrant smuggling from Ethiopia towards Europe, the Middle East and South Africa exponentially increased in the last two decades. Despite the increased criminalization of facilitators and the implementation of tougher border controls, this trend is likely to continue. At the backdrop of harsher environmental pressures and a deeper political and economic crisis in Ethiopia, these migrants still have limited opportunities for legal migration. This presentation will explore the migration processes and brokering practices that link Ethiopia and Sudan by taking into account the social, economic, political and cultural underpinnings of human smuggling in the region.

The reaction of receiving countries in Europe and the Middle East to the current migration pressure from the South, has been to securitize and criminalize irregular migrants and those who assist them by introducing international and bilateral mechanisms on border policing and deportations. However, faced with mounting hopelessness and desperation, the youth make dangerous and life defying migratory journeys towards places where they think there are safety and life opportunities. For this, they must rely on complex forms of migration facilitators and brokerage. Smugglers and their connectors facilitate Ethiopian migrants’ clandestine border crossings by mobilizing support and resources from local communities along the border, bribing border guards and capitalizing on their ethnic, religious and economic connections along Ethiopian-Sudanese borderlands.

In this presentation, I will highlight the practices of human smuggling and brokering migration by arguing that these partly thrives in the border areas, despite strict border and migration control policies. One of the reasons for this is that the actors extend the benefits of smuggling to the economically disadvantaged local community and this in return generates social support and community backup for smuggling activities.

Dr. Tekalign Ayalew Mengiste obtained his PhD in Social Anthropology from Stockholm University, Sweden in 2017. Currently he is senior researcher in the College of Social Sciences at Addis Ababa University and affiliated researcher at the Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University.

All seminars in the series.