Study Guides

The Ethiopian Diaspora

The Ethiopian diaspora, despite the long and extensive history of the country, is relatively small and confined to certain countries. With a total population of 107 million, less than 1 million live overseas. The largest diaspora community is in the United States (460,000), followed by Israel (130,000), Lebanon (110,000), Saudi Arabia (90,000), Italy (30,000) and the United Kingdom (20,000).

Mengistu Haile Mariam, Linsert tresniL, Flickr Creative Commons

Ethiopian immigration to the United States does not have a long history, beginning in earnest in the 1970’s. Although Ethiopian presence in the United States can be traced back to as early as the beginning of the 20th Century, immigration in large numbers didn’t occur until the escalation of political tensions within Ethiopia during the 1970’s. Indeed, the Ethiopian Revolution of 1974-77 was a significant turning point in the history of the country’s diaspora population. Nearly seven hundred years of continuous monarchy were brought to an end by a coup d’etat lead by Mengistu Haile Mariam, a Marxist figure. In his bid to replace the feudal system of the Solomonic dynasty, he implemented a number of brutal and repressive policies, peaking with the Ethiopian Red Terror of 1977-8.

This period triggered a major exodus of political refugees and coincided with a relaxation in US immigration policy. This, combined with the economic opportunities in the United States, made it a highly favourable destination. Immigration to the United States increased significantly during the 1990’s due to the outbreak of the Eritrean-Ethiopian War due to the pre-existing population conclaves around the country.

Israel is another significant Ethiopian population hub, with Ethiopians accounting for nearly 2% of the country’s population. Ethiopian Jews or Beta Israels have a long and extensive history stretching back millennia. From the second half of the 20th Century, many of these communities migrated to Israel.

Monks at Ethiopian Monastary – Old City – Jerusalem – Israel, Adam Jones, Flickr Creative Commons

Despite dealing with initial culture shock and assimilation difficulties, the Ethiopian Jewish population eventually became successfully assimilated into Israeli society. Israel now is home to more Ethiopian Jews than anywhere else in the world.

Other countries with significant Ethiopian populations such as the UK and Italy saw significant communities form as many fled the country due to the political turmoil of the latter half of the 20th Century. Despite not being a particularly widespread diaspora, Ethiopian immigrants have left a major cultural impact wherever they have settled.