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IRIN: Feature: Ethiopian Oromo refugees face bribes, harassment in Kenya January 12, 2018

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 NAIROBI, 12 January 2018


A freelance journalist, focusing on humanitarian and development issues

Ethiopian Oromo refugees fleeing to Kenya to escape persecution say they are finding life on the streets of Nairobi no better than the insecurity they left behind, as they are targeted by bribes and harassment and forced into vast camps with few prospects or protections.

The Oromo are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group but have long complained of political and economic marginalisation at the hands of the country’s ruling party, which is dominated by a minority ethnic group, the Tigrayans.

Following 2016 protests demanding political reform, which resulted in a state of emergency and the deaths of more than 600 in the security crackdown, thousands of Oromo made their way to neighbouring Kenya seeking asylum and refuge.

But they did not escape the Ethiopian authorities. Human Rights Watch has reported “numerous cases of harassment and threats” against Oromo asylum seekers in Kenya by Ethiopian government officials.

The rights group has also documented “confessions” by Kenyan police officers in which they admit to being offered bribes by the Ethiopian embassy to detain and intimidate Oromo refugees.

“When I came to Kenya I thought that I would be protected and would be able to start a new life,” said former Oromo politician “Tolessa”, who requested his identity be protected.

“[But] what I’m facing here is no different from what I was facing at home,” he told IRIN. “My future here isn’t very bright.”

Full of “spies”

Oromo refugees also reported attempts by Ethiopian officials to recruit them as informants in Nairobi’s Oromo community, promising land, protection, money, and even resettlement to the United States or elsewhere, Human Rights Watch noted.

“There are a lot of Ethiopian spies here in Nairobi,” one refugee, a former Ethiopian intelligence officer, alias “Demiksa”, told IRIN.

Now a senior dissident, “Demiksa” related what had happened to him back in Ethiopia.

He said that after refusing orders to torture prisoners held in Addis Ababa’s infamous Maekelawi prison, he was accused of being an opposition collaborator, detained, and then tortured himself.

“They tied my hands up and hung me up on the wall with nails and beat me with electric cables around my ankles and on my back,” he told IRIN, fighting tears. “I couldn’t walk for three months,” he added.

“Demiksa” said he was spared capital punishment on one condition: kill or be killed. Handed photographs of two prominent Oromo activists, he was given a loaded gun and told to get into a car.

He accepted the mission – “I had no choice,” he told IRIN – but was able to escape en route to the hit, and then fled Ethiopia.

When he arrived in Nairobi, “Demiksa” was told to register at the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya like all other Ethiopian exiles.

The long arm of Ethiopian security

But Oromo who fear being stalked by Ethiopian intelligence believe even Kakuma is not safe.

“Threats from Ethiopian security officials – working together with local [Kenyan] police – also extend to the refugee camps [in Kenya],” Human Rights Watch researcher Felix Horne told IRIN.

Horne said Oromo activists who have come from cities in Ethiopia fear camp life because of the lack of employment opportunities, the heat, and Kakuma’s physical proximity to Ethiopia.

But they have darker fears too.

Oromo refugees have reportedly been kidnapped from Kenya and taken back to Ethiopia, and there have been similar reports from Sudan, Djibouti, Uganda, and Somaliland.

“This is not unique to Kenya,” Horne said. “The patterns of pervasive Ethiopian security presence utilising local security officials is similar in other countries where Ethiopians flee to.”

Tariku Debela, a political refugee living in Kampala who fled Kenya in April 2016, still remains a target for Ethiopian security forces. He told IRIN that his scars bear witness both to the torture he received in Ethiopia and an attempt on his life in Uganda.

“Some people came to my hotel room, drugged me, and then beat me up,” he explained to IRIN over the phone. “People living nearby heard what was happening and came to my rescue. One of [the attackers] was arrested.”

A Ugandan police investigation revealed “that the men who attacked me were sent from Ethiopia to kill me,” he added.

After imploring the UN refugee agency several times to offer him protection, Debela now stays in a UNHCR safe house, but doesn’t get much else in the way of assistance.

“UNHCR haven’t even tried to help me process my case for resettlement,” he told IRIN. “Since I am a political refugee, I shouldn’t have to stay here for the rest of my life.”

UNHCR has a mandate to provide protection to refugees, including political figures like “Demiksa” and Debela.

“The documentation issued to them by the government and UNHCR gives them the right to reside legally in Kenya and protects them from deportation to their country of origin or expulsion from Kenya,” Yvonne Ndege, senior communications officer at UNHCR, told IRIN.“There are some high-profile cases, such as the Oromo; sometimes their cases are expedited through the registration process,” she added.

But some say this policy exists only in theory.

“In practice, there is very little protection afforded to Oromo refugees,” Horne told IRIN.  “Individuals with serious security issues – some of whom are high-profile individuals – often receive no practical protection whatsoever from these agencies.”

Bribes, harassment, and detention

Kenya has an encampment policy – refugees are supposed to stay in one of two vast refugee camps that house 489,000 people: Dadaab and Kakuma. That means those found in urban centres without proper documentation are vulnerable to extortion and intimidation by the police.

Refugees IRIN spoke to in Nairobi mentioned regularly having to pay bribes to avoid harassment. The going rate is up to $200 for a permit to avoid being sent to Kakuma.

Life for those who can’t afford to pay is bleak. “Because I don’t have my papers I stay at home so that I can be safe from police,” teenager Fozia told IRIN.

Fozia fled Ethiopia following a brutal crackdown on students in her hometown in Oromia. After student protesters dispersed, she says police followed her home, then raped and beat her. She decided to flee.

Despite coming to Kenya as an unaccompanied minor, Fozia hasn’t been helped by the authorities. Without the ability to bribe registration officers at Nairobi’s government-run refugee registration centre, Shauri Moyo, she can’t officially register with UNHCR for refugee status determination.

“I was given a movement pass to Kakuma, but I feared going there, especially as a young girl,” she explained.

Neither can Fozia afford to bribe officials to gain an all-important exemption permit that would allow her to legally avoid going to Kakuma.

“Without that, I’m told by UNHCR to either go to Kakuma or register for exemption at Shauri Moyo,” she said.

Many other refugees face the same hurdles.

“I still haven’t received exemption,” another former Oromo politician and victim of torture in Maekelawi who preferred to remain anonymous, told IRIN.

“I’ve been ordered to bribe officers with $200 to gain exemption from camp,” the former politician said. “I don’t have that sort of money. I also stay indoors to avoid having to pay police officers that harass me.”

Following registration with Shauri Moyo, refugees can then apply for a government of Kenya “alien card” for asylum recognition. But several refugees told IRIN that this process also entails under the table payments – ranging from $300 to $485.

Such allegations of corruption and extortion are denied by Kenya’s Refugee Affairs Secretariat, known as RAS.

UNHCR “concerned”

Once refugees are able to access asylum, their cases are referred to UNHCR for refugee status determination, which is necessary for official recognition as a refugee.

But many refugees are having to wait years to even get an interview.

“I was supposed to have an appointment in March this year,” one woman complained. “You just turn up to their office [UNHCR], stand in line, and wait for your turn. Then they tell you that they can’t see you that day.”

She went on to explain how they typically just give you another appointment letter with a different date and year and tell you to wait.

“They didn’t even give me another appointment date last time – they just told me that they would call me,” she said. “I still haven’t heard anything yet [since her March appointment].”

Recognising these concerns, the UN refugee agency insisted it is committed to improving the registration system.

“UNHCR is concerned about the time being taken for asylum seekers and refugees to receive proper documentation,” UNHCR’s Ndege told IRIN, adding that it was working to streamline its registration processes.

But Horne from Human Rights Watch said neither UNHCR nor RAS are doing enough right now to protect vulnerable Oromo.

“Country guidelines on Ethiopia that officers use to assess asylum claims should be updated as they are over 10 years old and do not remotely reflect the current situation in Ethiopia,” he said.

Oromo opposition to rulers in Addis Ababa stretches back centuries. The current ruling party, the EPRDF, has used federalism to dilute that dissent, but it has persisted.

Charlie Ensor/IRIN
An Oromo activist in Nairobi, crosses his arms in an Oromo symbol of solidarity

In the unrest in 2016 and 2017, the Oromo were joined by the second largest ethnic group, the Amharas, in the demand for political reform – posing a significant challenge to the government.

Reform at last?

In a surprise announcement at the beginning of the month, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced that his government would close Maekelawi prison and release political prisoners in a move he said would advance political dialogue with opposition groups.

“The regime realises that the political landscape is shifting rapidly and that they have to find a way forward to deal with ethnic tension and communal violence,” Ahmed Soliman, associate researcher at Chatham House, told IRIN.

But this all depends on how sincere the government is on reforming and its willingness to admit the violations it has committed – including in neighbouring countries.

As Amnesty International researcher Fisseha Tekele put it after Desalegn’s announcement: “A new chapter for human rights will only be possible if all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment are effectively investigated and those responsible brought to justice.”

(TOP PHOTO: Eastleigh, Nairobi. Home to Nairobi’s refugees. CREDIT: Charlie Ensor/IRIN)

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HRW: The Long Arm of Ethiopia Reaches for Those Who Fled September 21, 2017

Posted by OromianEconomist in Ethiopia's Colonizing Structure and the Development Problems of People of Oromia, Afar, Ogaden, Sidama, Southern Ethiopia and the Omo Valley, Ethnic Cleansing, Genocide, Horn of Africa Affairs, Human Rights, Human Rights Watch on Human Rights Violations Against Oromo People by TPLF Ethiopia, Oromian Affairs, Uncategorized.
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Odaa Oromoooromianeconomist

HRW

The Long Arm of Ethiopia Reaches for Those Who Fled

Ethiopia’s Refugees Unsafe in Kenya and Elsewhere

Refugees walking from danger to danger: Members of Ethiopia’s largest national group, the #Oromo, which activists charge is systematically disenfranchised by the government are still heading to #Yemen September 17, 2015

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Walking into danger: migrants still head to Yemen
HARGEISA, 11 August 2015 (IRIN) – Qader and Abdi are two weeks into their journey. Carrying only one empty plastic water bottle each, flattened, with no liquid to return it to its cylindrical shape, the two men figure they will be walking for another month-and-a-half before they reach the sea. From there, they will take a smuggler boat the short distance to Yemen, where another 600-kilometre walk lies ahead before they may reach their final destination, Saudi Arabia.
The pair – members of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, which activists charge is systematically disenfranchised by the government – are walking along an uncrowded road connecting the capital of Somaliland, Hargeisa, to a northern port city. They walk because they cannot afford the roughly $150-200 that a series of smugglers would charge to take them from the Ethiopian border east through Somaliland to the port of Bosaso in the neighbouring semi-autonomous region of Puntland.“We will walk until we become weak,” said 30-year-old Qader, who withheld his last name to protect his identity. He and his 19-year-old companion are dressed in dirtied long-sleeve shirts to shield them from the early morning sun, which will become unbearable by midday. They have made it this far off the good will of Somalilanders who offer them small change or meals as they pass.There is a small risk they could be arrested so they veer off the paved road near checkpoints but quickly return so as not to lose their way. Although walking along roads in Somaliland – a self-declared nation that the international community still classifies as a region of Somalia – puts migrants like them at increased risk of robbery or assault, Somalilanders generally do not wish the duo ill will. Government officials have even been known to stop and provide food and drink to migrants despite their illegal status in the country.

When they reach Bosaso the help will likely come to an end and Qader and Abdi will have to pay. Unlike on land, which the destitute can traverse without charge as long as they can avoid arrest, the sea is only passable by ships operated by smugglers, who are more than happy to continue transporting people to war-torn Yemen for a fee.

Ever more dangerous journey

Migration to and through Yemen – historically the backdoor for migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa trying to reach Saudi Arabia – has always put people at risk of death and inhumane treatment. Last year, there were numerous drownings in the Gulf of Aden and Human Rights Watch released a report in 2014 documenting “torture camps” where smugglers held newcomers for ransom.

But a civil war, precipitated by the departure of Yemen’s internationally-recognised government and a Saudi Arabian-led bombing campaign to restore its legitimacy, has made an already perilous journey for migrants all the more death-defying.

“It’s very dangerous, and I cannot stress that enough,” said Teddy Leposky, an external relations officer for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, in Yemen.

Not only has the war given smugglers license to act more ruthlessly than before, but also the ability of aid agencies to provide services to migrants and refugees has been severely compromised and the conflict’s violence has been indiscriminate. Five migrants were caught in shelling near the Saudi border in May and, at the end of March, a camp for displaced people camp was bombed, killing at least 45.

But as migrants and refugees know, the grinding poverty, political persecution or violence that typically push them out of the Horn of Africa, do not conveniently abate as wars break out in their path. So they continue to risk life and liberty and end up on Yemen’s shores. According to figures from UNHCR, more than 10,500 people have arrived in Yemen since March when the bombing campaign began. Although some of those might be part of the 51,000 who are now also leaving, as war in Yemen has created a circular flow in the region.

“I know it’s a high risk, but I will take it,” said Fila Aden, 24, in a café in Hargeisa. He is familiar with what lies ahead. This is the second time he left home in Ethiopia for work in oil-rich Saudi Arabia. Although he struggles to provide a precise timeline of events, he estimates he was deported from the kingdom about a month ago after working there for almost a year.Hiding the risks

Some aid officials believe that boat smugglers in Bosaso and Djibouti (for the Red Sea route to Yemen) may be downplaying the conflict in Yemen or flat-out lying to clients about the dangers they have seen.

Fila Aden in Hargeisa doesn’t doubt smugglers are sugarcoating forecasts, but he thinks the conflict in Yemen might actually work to his advantage. He is reassured by news that one of his friends just traversed Yemen and slipped unnoticed across the border with Saudi.

“We worry about Yemen. We could be accused of fighting [for a certain side] in the conflict. People are more paranoid now,” he said. “But looking at it from the Saudi perspective, they aren’t concerned about us. They are fighting a war in Yemen.”

As long as those like Aden are willing to go, there is money to be made. Several sources said the smugglers had doubled their asking price in Bosaso, which pre-war ran from $60 to $120 for the sea crossing. Omar, who asked that a pseudonym be used, smuggles Ethiopians from the border into Somaliland. He is fairly new, joining the ranks of the illicit business just five months ago. But the job has proven lucrative. He saw a drop in numbers around the time war broke out in Yemen, but Ramadan (which straddled June and July this year) was profitable, suggesting an uptick in those still willing to go to Yemen.

“People know damn well that they are taking a risk,” he said, when IRIN asked if smugglers were taking advantage of the war and luring clients under false pretenses. But he said smugglers too were taking extra risks, and more and more fearful of arrest. “I feel bad sometimes but what can I do? I have to make a living.”

No refuge any more

While Omar continues to facilitate a migrant march east, deteriorating conditions in Yemen have destroyed a refuge that many once sought.

Abdulqader Ahmed, a 17-year-old Ethiopian migrant, arrived in Yemen in March from Djibouti right as street battles began to erupt in the southern port city of Aden. He made his way to the UN-sponsored al-Kharaz camp nearby, too afraid to begin his journey north to Saudi Arabia. He watched as the camp ran short of food and water, with aid agencies unable to get supplies in. Finally, he managed to secure passage on a ship that evacuated him to Somaliland.

At a migrant response center in Hargeisa, where he was waiting to be repatriated back to Ethiopia, Ahmed said the war in Yemen had helped him reach the realisation that his goal of getting to Saudi Arabia would likely cost him his life. He now intends to return to farming with his father in Ethiopia, even though it will be almost impossible to earn a living.

For UNHCR’s Leposky, Yemen’s collapse is particularly concerning because of the country’s history of opening its borders to refugees and asylum seekers. He told IRIN that those arriving now in Yemen are making the costly journey across the sea only to find themselves in a similar situation, if not worse.

“It’s so unfortunate that a country that has provided protection and asylum to people for so many years is now in dire straits.”

http://m.irinnews.org/report/101848/walking-into-danger-migrants-still-head-to-yemen#.VfsJXNJVikq

Time: As Europe Begins to Welcome Syrians, African Refugees Fear Being Left Behind September 12, 2015

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Italy Migrants
Carmelo Imbesi—APMigrants wait to disembark from the Irish Navy vessel LE Niamh at the Messina harbor in Sicily, on Aug. 24, 2015. Source:- http://time.com/4031569/migrant-crisis-europe-african-refugees/

There is growing concern that Europe may unwittingly divide migrants into two distinct classes

With E.U. leaders finally working on a Europe-wide refugee policy, there is growing concern among some migrants and aid officials that the new policies might unwittingly divide the migrants into two distinct classes—with two different kinds of welcomes.

First, the hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing the war back home, whose stunning flight into Europe has seized world attention; and second, the hundreds of thousands of much poorer, less educated newcomers who have also fled dire circumstances in Africa.

As EU officials prepare to meet in Brussels on Monday to hash out an emergency plan, the details are sketchy as to how the continent will integrate the massive influx of migrants who have crossed into Europe from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. On Wednesday the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made it clear to the EU Parliament that the union’s 28 countries were duty-bound to help host the 160,000 asylum-seekers currently stuck in Greece, Italy, and Hungary, and emphasized that all would be treated equally. “Europe has made the mistake in the past of distinguishing between Jews, Christians, Muslims,” he said. “There is no religion, no belief, no philosophy when it comes to refugees.”

Yet, for some of the 80,000 or so who have landed in Sicily this year—the vast majority African—the promise of fairness for all sounds unconvincing.

Africans who have fled deadly, often forgotten conflicts, or various kinds of persecution—including religious and anti-gay violence—say they believe it could take years to win refugee status or residence in Europe, if they ever receive it at all. Those simply fleeing poverty, and there are many, are not eligible for asylum.

Instead, many predict a long, tough road towards acceptance and employment somewhere on the continent. Several African asylum-seekers in Sicily described overwhelming bureaucratic hurdles towards those goals — a far different picture than the tens of thousands of Syrians whom the E.U. and U.S. now appear willing to host.

Yet both sets of newcomers share one experience: life-threatening journeys to Europe. “”We risked everything to cross the Mediterranean,” says Samate, a tall 17-year-old from Senegal, sitting in a detention center in the Sicilian town of Messina on Wednesday. He said he fled his home last February after separatist rebels in the disputed Casamance region where he comes from tried to draft him into battle. The Italian Coast Guard rescued him and other migrants as they tried to cross the Mediterranean on in late July, and brought them to Sicily.

About half of those who have landed on Europe’s shores this year have been Syrian, according to the U.N. refugee agency, most crossing from Turkey to Greece, before moving quickly on to Austria, Germany and Sweden. But a large portion of the rest are Africans who have crossed from Libya to Italy—a more lethal sea route that has so far killed more than 2,200 migrants this year. Most have arrived after hair-raising treks across the vast, searing Sahara, and then weeks in Libya’s migrant jails. Samate’s five-month journey included working for traffickers in Niger and Libya at meager wages.

Far different from the Syrians clambering off boats in Greece, the Africans land in Sicily penniless and empty-handed. When I ask to see what they carried with them, most look puzzled, then point to the clothes on their back. “I arrived with nothing, not even my documents,” said Mandjo, 16, from Guinea, who fled when religious violence destroyed his village. What little he grabbed as he fled was lost to bandits along the way.

Now, the plight of African refugees like Mandjo risks getting lost amid the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe, aid officials say. “It’s important to us that Europe is now beginning to talk about opening their borders and welcoming refugees,” says Giovanna Di Benedetto of Save the Children in Sicily. “But it is not only Syrians who have to be welcomed.”

To underscore her point, Di Benedetto whips out her iPhone to show me photos of dead African infants whose bodies washed ashore on a beach off Zuwara, Libya on August 28, when their smugglers’ boat capsized. About 200 people drowned when the ship overturned.

Five days later, a photo on a beach off Bodrum, Turkey showed another dead toddler: Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy. That image finally jolted EU leaders into action. “Syrians of course need help, but they are not the only ones,” Di Benedetto says. Shaking her head at the photos of dead African children on her phone, she says she wonders whether Aylan’s “white skin” made the difference.

On Wednesday, Juncker, the European Commission President, announced a new €1.8-billion fund for Africa that will be financed from the EU’s operating budget. The fund is meant to address “root causes of illegal migration in Africa,” and Juncker expects individual European countries to “pitch in” with more money to effectively persuade Africans to stay at home, rather than move to Europe. He said the money would help generate jobs in Africa, thus reducing “destabilization, forced displacement and illegal migration.”

Such programs, sorely needed, could take generations to work, however. In the meantime, thousands of African migrants await settlement inside Europe’s borders.

How the EU will address this more immediate problem that problem is less clear than the issue of the new Syrian arrivals. “The EU is talking about the Syrians,” says Valeria Morace, an Italian working in the Messina center for unaccompanied minors. “But politicians don’t talk about Africans in general, because they are not really doing anything for them.”

As Europe Begins to Welcome Syrians, African Refugees Fear Being Left Behind

Justice for the people of Oromia: Why is the largest ethnic group (the Oromo) in Ethiopia also one of the most persecuted? June 26, 2013

Posted by OromianEconomist in Oromo the Largest Nation of Africa. Human Rights violations and Genocide against the Oromo people in Ethiopia.
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