In January 2019 Ethiopia promulgated a Refugee Proclamation seen by Filippo Grandi, the UN High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as ‘historic’ and a ‘significant milestone’ (UNHCR 2019). Behind
this legislative reform lay complex migration diplomacy as Ethiopia engaged with the European Union
(EU) and its member states plus international organisations, including the World Bank and UNHCR.
Further revealing of the extent of international engagement, the Refugee Law also reflected the nine
pledges that Ethiopia made in 2016 under the UN’s Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework
(CRRF) and the 2017 Nairobi Declaration on durable solutions for Somali refugees and the reintegration
and return of refugees to Somalia at the Special Summit of the Inter-Governmental Authority on
Development (IGAD) (UNHCR 2018; IGAD 2017; O’Callaghan et al. 2019). These efforts aimed to
provide international and regional support to Ethiopia’s efforts to provide ‘local integration’ of refugees.
Ethiopia also revised its laws related to human trafficking, smuggling of migrants and labour migration
(Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia 2019).
The paper identifies ‘local integration’ as the focus for the 2019 Ethiopian refugee law. It then steps
back to explore wider links between migration diplomacy and migration governance to assess divergent
African and European understandings of migration governance and the diffusion of migration issues
into domestic political agendas. To exemplify the argument, we focus in particular on Ethiopia’s
migration diplomacy, which we understand as inter-state actions and interactions that are diplomatic in
form, have a significant foreign policy dimension, and, have cross border mobility as their focus. We
identify four key effects of migration diplomacy: a tension between free movement and containment
that highlights divergent understandings of the causes and effects of migration and displacement
between African and European countries; African engagement with the development of international
norms and standards to which EU states are more ambivalent; a distraction effect away from migratory
routes other than that towards the EU; and, the effects of diffusion of migration agendas into domestic
politics in African countries.