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The Oromo in Egypt: Why Have 11,000 Ethiopians Fled Their Homeland? November 15, 2016

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The Oromo are the single largest ethno-national group in northeast Africa. In Ethiopia, they are estimated to comprise 50 million out of the country’s total population of 100 million.

Although the Oromo group is the largest among the country’s 80 ethno-national groups, it is the most oppressed group in Ethiopia and is subjected to torture and arrests from the government for demanding their rights.

“You’ll be oppressed just for being an Oromo; I was a teacher and I was telling students how to protest peacefully against what our territory is facing and the violations the government made,” Boushra told Egyptian Streets.

The Oromo in Egypt: Why Have 11,000 Ethiopians Fled Their Homeland?

NADA NADER, Egyptian Street,  
Students watch a movie being projected in the playground
Students watch a movie being projected in the playground of the African Hope Learning Center. Photo: Marwa Abdallah

A couple of weeks ago, a video that made the rounds on social media showed an Egyptian man chanting during an Oromo conference in Egypt that the Oromo will get their rights and come to power in Ethiopia.

The video resulted in minor disturbances in the otherwise stable Egyptian-Ethiopian relations for a few days, with a spokesman from the Ethiopian government accusing “elements” in Egypt of financing, arming and training armed groups in Ethiopia to undermine the government.

Egyptian authorities swiftly denied all such accusations, reiterating its full support and respect of Ethiopia’s sovereignty.

Although the rift was short-lived and has since been forgotten, it is a fact that the presence of the Oromo people in Egypt has been increasing as of late.

The Oromo are the single largest ethno-national group in northeast Africa. In Ethiopia, they are estimated to comprise 50 million out of the country’s total population of 100 million.

Although the Oromo group is the largest among the country’s 80 ethno-national groups, it is the most oppressed group in Ethiopia and is subjected to torture and arrests from the government for demanding their rights.

Among the Oromo community, the majority is Muslim but there are also Christians and individuals of other religions living together in harmony without any discrimination within Oromia territory.

Since the Ethiopian government decided to implement the so-called “Integrated Addis Ababa Master Plan” to expand the Ethiopian capital, which is classified as one of the capital cities witnessing the greatest growth, it started dislocating the Oromo people from their farms without giving proper compensations.

Oromo demonstrations surfaced in Ginchi – about 80 kilometers southwest of the capital – in November 2015, with the Oromo protesting against the selling of the nearby Chilimongo forest, land seizures and the ongoing evictions of Oromo farmers.

Human Rights Watch accused Ethiopian security forces of killing 400 people during the protests. The chaos from the protests resulted in the imposition of martial law in the country, which remains under effect until this moment.

Last August, the Oromo and Amhara groups – which, together, form 80% of Ethiopia’s population – protested against the government for marginalizing the two groups, depriving them of their rights and barring them from holding top positions in the country.

Clashes during the protest resulted in the death of seven protestors who were calling for the release of political prisoners, freedom of expression and an end to human rights violations.

The Ethiopian authorities’ violations against the Oromo people have pushed many of the latter to flee the country, with some of them seeking refuge in Egypt.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Egypt, there were 11,192 Ethiopian asylum seekers in Egypt as of September. The number increased noticeably after the clashes between the Oromo and the Ethiopian authorities.

“Of course there’s a significant increase in numbers of Ethiopian refugees,” Tarek Argaz, a media official at UNHCR, told Egyptian Streets. “Since a year and a half, the number of asylum seekers was around 5,000.”

“The reason behind the increased flow of Ethiopian refugees to Egypt is that the Ethiopian authorities can’t arrest us here,” said 25-year-old Abdi Boushra, Director of the Oromo Volunteering Association School in the upscale Cairo neighborhood of Maadi.

Boushra says he fled Ethiopia after being detained for a year after being accused of being a member of the Oromo Liberation Front, an armed group that is outlawed by the Ethiopian government.

“You’ll be oppressed just for being an Oromo; I was a teacher and I was telling students how to protest peacefully against what our territory is facing and the violations the government made,” Boushra told Egyptian Streets.

“I got arrested for a year. Then I fled from Ethiopia to Sudan. I’m like many people who fled from Sudan to Egypt by smugglers through the desert. We paid around USD 300 to reach Egypt.”

Boushra says he spent three months in Sudan but described his time there as a “nightmare,” saying that Sudanese authorities extradite asylum seekers back to Ethiopia.

“If we went there, we will be killed,” Boushra says. “We never imagined to live in Egypt before because of the different culture and language but we come here to feel safe.”

Ashraf Melad, a lawyer and researcher on refugee affairs, described the legal situation of Ethiopian refugees in Egypt.

“The 2014 Egyptian constitution insisted to protect any asylum seeker but there’s no refugee law in Egypt. Egypt is only permitting asylum seekers to live on its land,” Melad told Egyptian Streets. “In case of committing crimes, the Minister of Foreign Affairs alerts the country of the asylum seeker who committed the crime.

“In [Sudan’s case], there’s an implicit convention between the Sudanese and Ethiopian governments of extraditing Ethiopian opposition and asylum seekers. It’s a deal which had no place in Egyptian-Ethiopian relations,” Melad added.

“The UNHCR is keen on giving each refugee his right and make sure that he deserves our help. We decreased the period for discussing the papers of people who seek asylum after they got the yellow card to live legally in Egypt from 28 months to 16 months to accept him as a refugee or not,” UNHCR’s Argaz said. “I consider this as an achievement because we have an increasing flow and a limited budget.”

Noura Mohamed, a house maid who fled from the conflict in Oromia with her 14-year-old son, resorted to smugglers to help her make her way to Egypt through Sudan, like many other Ethiopians fleeing their country.

“The [situation] in Oromia was unbearable. The security comes to arrest you in your home just for being Oromo,” Mohamed told Egyptian Streets. “The government killed my father during clashes.”

Mohamed says that, after working as a maid in Kuwait, she returned to Ethiopia, where she and her husband were detained for demonstrating “and for being an Oromo citizen in the first place.”

Mohamed was released after three months, while her husband is currently still in prison in Ethiopia.

“I wanted to bring up my only son, so I decided to flee no matter what will happen; there’s nothing worse than what we experienced,” Mohamed says.

However, she says that she is struggling in Egypt, where her monthly salary is EGP 1,500 but her rent is EGP 1,000 per month.

“The UNHCR gives me EGP 1,050 in annual expenses for my son but of course this isn’t enough,” she says.

To add to Mohamed’s woes, schools are not accessible to many asylum seekers in Egypt, making it difficult for her to secure an education for her son.

“Asylum seekers have no right to [enroll] their children in Egyptian schools; there are schools for refugees but we noticed that many Oromo children evade these schools because they’re irrelevant to their identity and language,” Boushra says.

In an attempt to address this issue, Boushra says that the community decided to establish a school to teach Oromo children the Oromo language, as well as English, Arabic and other subjects such as math and science.

“We are working in the school as volunteers and there are no fees for children,” Boushra says, adding that the school currently has 150 students but remains free of the supervision of any educational authority.

The school was established in hopes of helping the Oromo people in Egypt maintain their identity as they work to integrate themselves into the society as a whole.

While a number of Ethiopian refugees say they don’t face racism or ethnic discrimination in Egypt, seeking refuge in Egypt is not without its challenges.

Everyday, many refugees who enter Egypt illegally gather in front of the UNHCR headquarters in the 6th of October satellite city, waiting for their turn to be accepted as asylum seekers and begin integrating themselves in Egyptian society.

The desperation of Oromo refugees in Cairo August 3, 2016

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Odaa OromooOromo refugees in Egypt, we need protection

The desperation of Oromo refugees in Cairo

An Oromo asylum seeker died in Cairo last week after attempting to help two men who set themselves on fire during a protest in front of a United Nations office.

The protest outside the UNHCR’s office in 6th of October City called for the UN refugee agency to end its alleged discriminatory treatment of Oromo refugees.

Most Oromo refugees in Egypt come from Ethiopia, where they make up the largest ethnic group. The Ethiopian government responded to Oromo protests with violence late last year, intensifying an ongoing crackdown against them. Human Rights Watch estimated in June that over 400 Oromo have been killed since November 2015, with thousands injured, tens of thousands arrested and hundreds forcibly disappeared.

Mohamed Ademo, a Washington DC-based Oromo journalist, who has been following the case closely, told Mada Masr that Asli Nure was injured while trying to help two men who were later hospitalized, whose identities remain unknown.

Video footage of the incident was shared on social media, showing large amounts of smoke and people screaming.

The UNHCR released a statement saying it, “deeply regrets the tragic passing of an Ethiopian Oromo asylum-seeker on 26 July 2016, following a violent incident outside UNHCR office in Cairo.” The statement made no reference to the protest.

The UNHCR office will be closed until next week. The UN agency’s spokesperson Tarik Argaz told Mada Masr the closure is a temporary measure to guarantee the safety of staff members and asylum seekers coming to the offices.

Argaz says UNHCR security staff helped extinguish the fire and transported the injured to hospital. The office is working closely with hospital staff and the authorities in relation to the incident, he adds.

But Ademo claims the response from the UNHCR was lacking.

“It is even more tragic that the UNHCR’s response to all of this is to close its office. The appropriate course of action should have been to thoroughly investigate protesters’ grievances and what led to this deadly episode,” he says.

When asked about how the UNHCR is addressing Oromo concerns they are being discriminated against, with their applications for refugee status commonly either ignored or denied, Argaz says the agency is in touch with Oromo community figures concerning their grievances, but would not disclose any details.

Argaz and the UNHCR as a whole categorically deny Oromo refugees face any discriminatory treatment. “We process every claim according to UNHCR standard procedures. I want to stress that it’s an individual process and not a group-based approach,” says Argaz.

But Oromo community leaders have been saying for months that they face unfair treatment. Abdul Kadir, the secretary general of Oromo Refugees Egypt, a community organizing center for Oromo refugees, first spoke to Mada Masr in April about Oromo protests at the UNHCR office in Cairo, which continued for a couple of weeks. At the time Kadir and his organization had just begun negotiations with the UNHCR and they have since taken a step back from active protests. But he says palpable anger against the UNHCR remains.

“Many Oromo are rejected. Every week it’s 40 to 50 people who are rejected. More than 99 percent have been rejected, so people are angry, they are not happy with the UNHCR,” he claims.

Kadir says many Oromo refugees in Cairo have been accused by the Ethiopian government of belonging to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). The OLF is an armed group that was designated a terrorist organization by Ethiopia’s parliament in 2011. According to HRW, while the group has minimal military capacity, its existence is often used by the Ethiopian government to justify the repression of Oromo.

Many Oromo refugees in Cairo are either connected to the OLF or accused of connections, Kadir says, meaning they are unable to return to Ethiopia amid the ongoing crackdown.

He attributes the large number of rejected applications from Oromo for refugee status to the similar stories they tell, which he says makes UNHCR officials suspicious. However, he adds that many Oromo refugees wait years for a response after their initial status determination interviews with the UNHCR, in comparison to the average 20 months the UNHCR promises.

Feven Basada has been waiting for almost three years for the result of her refugee status interview. She says the stress of not knowing has caused her to become sick and unable to work, and that she is only able to survive because of the support of her church.

Basada left Ethiopia because her family was being targeted by the government. “I don’t know if anyone is alive or not,” she says. “You don’t have anyone. You don’t have a country, you don’t have anything. That’s why I have this sickness,” she adds. Basada lives alone, and often, when she calls the UNHCR office, no one answers. “I want to live like a human being, it is very hard … very difficult for women especially.”

Marwa Hashem, assistant public information officer for the UNHCR in Cairo, told Mada Masr that each refugee application has to be evaluated on an individual basis and the agency works with over 181,000 asylum seekers and refugees, which may explain the long wait. Hashem adds that staff shortages and increasing numbers of asylum seekers have made agency efforts to reduce the wait time difficult.

“Cases of asylum seekers with specific vulnerabilities may be adjudicated faster than others under certain circumstances, based on identified needs in each case,” Hashem explained, adding that the UNHCR does not discriminate against groups of people based on affiliation or ethnicity.

But others who work in the field disagree. A source from an international refugee organization told Mada Masr anonymously that he often sees Syrian refugees take priority over other groups.

“It’s been my experience that pretty much all refugee organizations right now have a dual focus — one for Syrian refugees and one for non-Syrian refugees. People will look at meeting a quota for non-Syrians, and they will dedicate half of their resources to Syrians,” he explains.

He says that the reason for this is a combination of the large influx of Syrian refugees into Egypt and funding priorities. In a world of tight funding, he explains, organizations have to make choices in order to cover their costs.

Whether or not this is the case, Oromo refugees are beginning to feel hopeless, according to Ademo.

“The depth of their frustration and grievance with lengthy procedures that keep ending in rejection is heartbreaking. The desperation has already led dozens to perish in the Mediterranean while attempting to reach Europe,” he says. A boat crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Egypt to Europe capsized in April and at least 400 refugees, largely from Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia, drowned.

Ademo says many Oromo still in Cairo feel hopeless and “some have publicly suggested they have nothing left to lose, and may set themselves alight.”


Appeal for urgent action to UNHCR :Oromo Refugees in Egypt need immediate protection April 11, 2016

Posted by OromianEconomist in Oromo, Oromo Refugees in Egypt.
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Odaa Oromoo Oromo refugees in Egypt, we need protection


Appeal for urgent action


Oromo Refugees in Egypt need your immediate protection
To: The United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees (UNHCR),

Australian Oromo Community Association expresses its deep concern about the rejection of Oromo refugee appeal for protection and resettlement case. We appeal to request your immediate action on a very urgent demand, particularly, that involving Oromo refugees living in Cairo, Egypt.
Oromo refugees fled their homeland to various neighboring countries to rescue their lives and their families. Majority experienced years of detention, torture and suffering behind bars while others escaped due to fear for their lives as the results of occurrences of unbearable human right violations in Ethiopia. Commonly, Oromo refugees have fled from the extra-judicial killings, removal from their properties and land confiscation, illegal arrests, trials without evidence, torture, and constant humiliations.
Therefore, rejection of their refugee case appeal for resettlement and protection means not only making them hopelessness and darken their futurity but also devastating for them as they are left without a guarantee from not to be deported back to Ethiopia that certainly exposing them to detention, torture, and possible death.
The Australian Oromo Community Association intensely concern for the physical and emotional well-being of these refugees and their families. We utterly believe these genuine Oromo refugees are forced to flee persecution and desperately search for safety and protection from violence and intimidation. They are in an extreme situation that needs your prompt action.
Regarding this urgent matter, the Australian Oromo Community Association appeals for your supportive action, and sincerely request to consider their case and continue processing their protection status and resettlement process in third countries. Please show your kind sympathy instantly to save these very vulnerable innocent Oromo refugees’ life in Cairo, Egypt.
Thank you for consideration of our concern and this urgent matter.


VIDEO: Oromo refugees protest for registration outside UNHCR Egypt


Egypt defends treatment of Oromo refugees April 6, 2016

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Odaa Oromoo#OromoProtests against the Ethiopian regime fascist tyranny. Join the peaceful movement for justice, democracy, development and freedom of Oromo and other oppressed people in Ethiopia

Egypt defends treatment of Ethiopian refugees

Ethiopian migrants, all members of the Oromo community of Ethiopia living in Malta, protest against the Ethiopian regime in Valletta, Malta, Dec. 21, 2015.  (photo by REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi)


CAIRO (Almonitor, April 5, 2016) — On March 13, nearly 1,000 people of the Oromo ethnic community took part in a big ceremony celebrating the second anniversary of the Oromia Media Network (OMN), which opposes the ruling regime in Ethiopia.

The ceremony was the first event held by the Ethiopian opposition in Cairo since theoutbreak of violence in Ethiopia between the government and the ethnic community in December. The violence arose over Ethiopia’s “master plan” to expand the capital, Addis Ababa, into large parts of Oromo farmlands without any actual compensation.

At that time, Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Ministry contented itself with issuing a press statement on Dec. 21, saying that the incidents “are an internal Ethiopian issue.”

“We are looking forward to stability and the completion of the comprehensive economic and social development programs in Ethiopia,” the ministry said.

Yet local Ethiopian media outlets continued to circulate statements by Ethiopian officials accusing Cairo of supporting the opposition and of being behind these events in order to weaken Ethiopia. These statements were based on the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s remarks in November 2010 that there was irrefutable evidence of Egypt’s support for insurgents in Ethiopia, under the rule of former President Hosni Mubarak.

At the second anniversary ceremony, OMN head Jawar Mohammed spoke of the need for the Oromo uprising to continue against the policies of the Ethiopian government and the ruling Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) party. He accused the government of adopting systematic policies against the Oromo community and of seizing its land.

A government official who coordinates African affairs and spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity said, “The Egyptian authorities have nothing to do with the ceremony.”

He explained, “A group of Ethiopian activists applied for a security approval for the ceremony, which they obtained, similarly to any other foreign communities wishing to hold activities in Cairo.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) fact sheet issued in February said 6,916 Ethiopian asylum seekers are registered with the UNHCR in Cairo.

“Most of the Ethiopians who are registered with the UNHCR are of the Oromo people, whose registration rate has been constant since 2015,” Marwa Hashem, assistant public information officer for the UNHCR in Cairo, told Al-Monitor.

“The UNHCR have provided all political asylum seekers and refugees from Africa with services such as material aid to the most needy, educational grants, health care and psychosocial support.”

Ahmad Badawi, head of the Egyptian Foundation for Refugee Support, told Al-Monitor, “Egypt is committed to its international obligations not to reject asylum seekers when they do not oppose national security, even those who enter illegally.”

The Egyptian government does not provide any special advantages to Ethiopian refugees without providing the same to other foreign nationals, he said. UNHCR is in charge of providing services to all refugees.

The Oromo ethnic community makes up 40% of Ethiopia’s population, followed by the Amhara and Tigrayan communities, which make up 32% — though Tigrayans control the government through the ruling TPLF party. The Oromia Regional State stretches over large areas in central Ethiopia, where the capital is located, and includes most of Ethiopia’s wealth, as it controls the country’s coffee exports, gold mines and the rivers’ headwaters.

Due to the escalating protests, the Ethiopian government canceled the plan to expand the capital. Yet the Oromo revolution has not ended, as the people continue to demand freedom and fair representation in the government and to protest the ruling party’s practices.

“The Oromo community will continue to protest not only against the Ethiopian government’s master plan, which raised problems in the past, but also to preserve the Oromo ethnic community’s land, culture and language, against the ethnic policies of the Tigrayan who control the rule,” Girma Gutema, an Oromo community activist, told Al-Monitor.

“Eritrea and Sudan supported the Oromo struggle. Yet following the Sudanese-Ethiopian rapprochement, many rebels fled to Eritrea,” Gutema said. However, the Egyptians, as well as the international community, don’t know enough about the Oromo community’s problems to be able to offer support.

Such rumors, he said, are propaganda spread by the Ethiopian government due to its historic bickering with Egypt.

Galma Guluma, an Ethiopian political activist and organizer of the ceremony in Cairo, told Al-Monitor that Cairo is the safest place for Oromo people fleeing Ethiopia, particularly sinceSudan changed its policy and is now turning over Ethiopian oppositionists to their government.

“Fleeing to Cairo was not an easy thing to do. Many refugees went through difficult situations and conditions until they reached the Egyptian border,” Guluma said. “Most of the Oromo refugees in Cairo do not have permanent jobs, and some girls are working as domestic servants. Moreover, they receive very little aid from the civil society organizations.”

Guluma added, “We do not have weapons to face the regime in Ethiopia. Our goal is to focus on [getting] the media to speak of the suffering of the Oromo people,” who are oppressed despite the great wealth in their state.

He noted, “Cairo has been a historical place for the Oromo struggle and the idea of the media network and Oromo radio started in Cairo more than 50 years ago with SheikhMohammed Rashad, who studied at the Al-Azhar University in the 1960s and was honored by [former Egyptian President] Gamal Abdel Nasser.”

The Egyptian political administration has said that, while it seeks to build trust and goodwill, its open-door policy for Oromo refugees is part of an international commitment to the refugees’ case and should not be perceived as an attempt to exploit any internal conflicts to weaken the Ethiopian state.

Nevertheless, this issue remains a focus of constant tension in Egyptian-Ethiopian ties, in addition to the historic conflict over Nile water management.