Ethiopians in A new “February Revolution”

The demonstrators in Benghazi are attacking foreign residents
The demonstrators in Benghazi are attacking foreign residents, particularly the black colored inhabitants

The demonstrators in Benghazi are attacking foreign residents
The demonstrators in Benghazi are attacking foreign residents, particularly the black colored inhabitants

Libyan, Yemen: Situation of Ethiopian Citizen in the embattled country

By Merga Yonas,  Ethiopian Reporter

Dida Gabruma (his name has been changed), 27, who has been living for the last five years in Benghazi, Libya, is hiding himself from the protesters view, fearing for his personal security as the protesters are attacking foreigners residing in Libya. “The demonstrators in Benghazi are attacking foreign residents, particularly the black colored inhabitants”, Dida told The Reporter over the telephone from Benghazi.

“Since the uprising in Bengazi started, I’ve been hiding at my job, away from the sight of the protesters fearing that they could hurt me,” Dida explained. “As there are no guaranteed of protections from the government or the international community, currently, everyone is hiding in their home to shield their personal safety.”

Bengazi, the nerve center of Libyan protest, has become under the full control of anti-government protesters. According to various media sources, foreign nationals have been under attack in several places, including Bengazi; and a sense of insecurity is prevailing among the foreign community in Libya. An estimated total of 332 members of the opposition forces died during the fighting in Benghazi, al-Baida and Derna.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that “humanitarian emergency” was underway as thousands are fleeing Libya in a mass exodus of foreigners from the strife-torn country by air, land and sea. The agency said almost 100,000 migrant workers, mostly from Egypt and Tunisia, have fled Libya in the past week and many remain stranded at the Libya-Tunisia border because Libyan customs officers deserted their posts.

The UN refugee agency said it has become “increasingly concerned” about the dangers for civilians inadvertently caught up in the mounting violence in Libya, especially asylum-seekers and refugees. According to UNHCR, scores of people are believed to have been killed in Libya since the government cracked down on protests that erupted against the government last week. Fighting has been continuing in the capital, Tripoli, and elsewhere.

“We have no access at this time to the refugee community. Over the past months we have been trying to regularize our presence in Libya, and this has constrained our work,” Melissa Fleming, UNHCR’s chief spokesperson, told journalists in Geneva.

She added that some of the reports that UNHCR has been receiving from third-party sources were very worrying. “A journalist has passed information to us from Somalis in Tripoli who say they are being hunted on suspicion of being mercenaries. He says they feel trapped and are frightened to go out, even though there is little or no food at home,” Fleming said.

Last week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) has announced that Ethiopian citizens can go to the Sudanese Embassy in Tripoli as well as their consular in Bengazi and Kufra for registration. Since there is no Ethiopian embassy in Libya, the ministry has approached Sudan Embassy to register Ethiopian national in Libya, Ambassador Dina Mufta spokesperson with MoFA told The Reporter.

The ministry has been informed by the Sudanese Embassy in Tripoli, that they have registered 168 Ethiopian citizens since the announcement. Besides, here in Addis Ababa, the families and relatives have been registering their children, relative and friends residing in Libya. Till yesterday, the task-force at the ministry registered 160 citizens expecting more to come, Ambassador Dina told The Reporter.

“So far, I have no contact with family from homeland as the network is stranded, and I am not communicating with friends here in Bengazi for fear to go out,” Dida told The Reporter. “As I am hiding I have no information regarding the registration at Sudan consular; even if I had how could I go out?”

According to various media sources, tens of thousands have fled the violence in Libya, and there’s no sign that the mass exodus is likely to stop soon. That’s partly down to the fact that a sixth of the Libyan population is made up of ex-patriots from other countries. The vast number of those trying to leave are so overwhelming that security forces cannot hold them back. Libyan authorities have ordered the UN refugee agency to shut its office in Libya and leave the country, an agency spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

“We have received instructions by the Libyan government for UNHCR to cease its activities in Libya, basically we’ve been instructed to close our office there,” said Fleming.”We have not been given any reason by Libyan authorities for why we should leave the country,” she told journalists.

Ethiopian citizens in Yemen

The upheaval in Tunisia that occurred due to rising food prices, high unemployment, official corruption, and lack of real political representation, and finally led to the “Jasmine Revolution” by the ousting of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled the country for 23 years, has been spreading throughout the Arab World, incurring its domino effect. Following this, Egyptians were also protesting, taking after the similar situation in Tunisia, and successfully overthrew Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power for 30 years.

Even still, protests are an ongoing with an unprecedented series of major uprisings in Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria and Jordan. Minor incidents have also been occurring in Syria, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Mauritania.

Abraham Bekele, 30, married to Eden Hailu and a father of one child named Yishaq, has been living in Sana’a, Yemen, for the past eight years. The uprising in Yemen has caused a lot of problem for the foreign nationals, particularly for Ethiopians. Since the government announced that it is going to leave its position after five months and demanded the protesters to stop the chaos and the robbing of public property-the situation in Sana’a is a bit better.

However, the protesters are beating up foreign nationals and robbing individual property, in the later case which is still happening to Ethiopian. Abreham Bekele told The Reporter via telephone from Sana’a.

Last week, the Ethiopian Embassy in Sana’a, advised its citizens to stay in communication with each other and the Ethiopian community. Abraham, who went Sana’a to do business, owns a music shop where he sells local music to the Ethiopian citizens living there and neighboring towns.

“However, since the situation has escalated ,and acts of violence against foreigners have become more common, I am no longer operating my business, instead I am staying in the house with my family to be safe,” Abraham told The Reporter.

Since late January, tens of thousands of Yemenis have demonstrated in the capital Sana’a, calling on President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled the country for 30 years, to step down. This comes after mass protests in Egypt and a popular uprising in Tunisia that ousted their long-time leaders.

Yemeni opposition members and youth activists called for economic reforms and an end to corruption. They also complain of mounting poverty among a growing young population and frustration with a lack of political freedoms. The country has also been plagued by a range of security issues, including a separatist movement in the south and an uprising of Shia Houthi rebels in the north.

Girum Tekelehaimanot, 38, friend of Abram who is residing in Sana’a, has been concerned about himself and other Ethiopians as they are hunted by protesters and robbed of their propertie. He told The Reporter on the phone, that he could not go to work because of fear for his safety, as the uprising is intensifying from day to day. According to Girum, over 8,000 Ethiopians live in Yemen.

Girum, who fled to Yemen after the 2005 Ethiopian National Election, said that about a week ago a shops owned by a Ethiopia was robbed. Comparing to other foreign nationals in Yemen, Ethiopian takes the upper hand in number. Thus, in this kind of scenarios they are more likely to become a victim of this protest.

Last Friday, the Ethiopian Embassy in Yemen gathered its citizens and informed them to keep communicating with the embassy, Ambassador Dina told The Reporter. The embassy also advised the Ethiopian Community to register with the embassy and  prepare all the necessary documents that prove Ethiopia citizenship; to help coordinate an evacuation of the citizens in case the situations gets worst, he added.

According to Girum, members of the Ethiopian community( mandated by the Ethiopian Embassy) are requesting a payment 2,000 Yemenis Riyal to be evacuated from the country. If the citizens have those documents to flee back home, why do they need to go for registration when they could just go to the embassy, take their visa and fly back to Ethiopia? What the embassy is currently doing and the course it has under taken is not going quite well and the payment they are demanding is unfair, Girum told The Reporter.

Here in Ethiopia, families, relatives and friends has been concerned for their loved ones living in Libya, Yemen and other Arab World since the uprising erupted in North Africa and the Middle East. There are tens of thousands of Ethiopian citizens who are living in those two regions and facing the same circumstances Dida, Abraham and Groum have been undergoing.

However the MoFA and Ethiopian embassy are putting forth an effort to reach out to the citizens. The families, friends and relatives are urging the concerned body as they are longing to see and/or hear the security and safety of those residing in Libya, Yemen and other Arab World.

Ed’s Note: Tewodros Kebkab has contributed to this story.