Ethiopia refugee shutout comes as murder toll hits five

Written by by William D’Urso, CNN

Amid ongoing protests and allegations of government harassment, Ethiopia’s government has been accused of effectively closing its doors to an estimated 80,000 asylum seekers and refugees.

If confirmed, the size of the Ethiopian community living in Canada is equivalent to the estimated population of half a million people living in Nigeria.

Last week, the UN refugee agency claimed a two-week halt on immigration procedures had cost it — and them — an estimated 50,000 people seeking international protection.

Commissioner Filippo Grandi said some governments had “effectively closed their doors,” inviting staff to return to former resettlement sites in Latin America, some 100km from the Ethiopian border.

In addition to the resettlement sites, Canada also has camps in the Horn of Africa region and supports the Ethiopian diaspora in diaspora communities across the world, including Chicago, Manchester, Philadelphia and Montreal.

Grandi said other countries had stepped in to fill the void, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Kenya and the United States.

Six Canadian men have arrived at the refugee resettlement site at Lacolle, Quebec. Credit: Oli Scarff/Getty Images North America

Refugee shut out

The news comes amid a crackdown on opposition groups and increased repression in the country, most famously the notorious anti-terrorism law, which has been used to jail hundreds of activists and civil society leaders.

The government has since accused Eritrea, which is also battling an insurgency, of using its diaspora to undermine the Ethiopian government and receive financial and political support.

The Ethiopian government’s stop on asylum seekers coincided with its worst toll of fatalities in four years. At least 191 people have been killed in the past month, largely the result of new security measures, according to Ethiopian state media.

“These are lives, people’s children,” says Christine Axten, managing director at Columbus Global in North America. “They should be held to the same standards of legality that every other family has.”

Ethiopian refugees in Canada have claimed they are in danger of being deported to their country. Credit: Courtesy Columbus Global

Ms. Axten is driving a social action campaign with United We Dream (UWD), a U.S.-based immigrant rights group. It argues that individuals should be welcome at embassies, embassies’ missions or consulates as an asylum-seeker.

“US embassies and consulates should not become prisons for refugees,” wrote the UWD’s Executive Director, Jenny Yang, in a video addressed to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“They should be welcoming, safe places, the first line of defense for U.S. migrants and refugees.”

Countries within the region, including the United States, have confirmed they will help refugees resettle in other countries, in compliance with international law, and pay for humanitarian aid.

Refugees ‘should be welcome at embassies’

Toronto resident Precious Tsegay, 27, who fled Ethiopia two years ago, is especially keen to see Canada’s efforts double or triple. The home of the high-tech scene, the city is home to numerous ethnic groups from across the globe, including Ethiopians, whose first language is Amharic.

Tsegay believes Trudeau will use his visit this week to press Ethiopia’s leaders to end their crackdown.

“I think [Trudeau] will be using it as a case study, not only for Canada’s ambassador but for the rest of the world,” she told CNN.

“I’m hoping that they open their doors to us. And the money will go into funding those agencies and organizations. They haven’t done enough, but I’m sure they will.”

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