Feyisa Lilesa sheds light on abuses in Ethiopia

By Gloria Nafziger: Refugee and Migrant Rights Coodinator

On August 21, as Silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa finished a marathon at the Rio Olympics, he crossed his arms above his head in a gesture of solidarity with the Oromo people in Ethiopia. He is reported as saying, “The Ethiopian government is killing my people so I stand with all protests anywhere as Oromo is my tribe. My relatives are in prison and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed.”

He did not return to Ethiopia, and is reported to be seeking asylum in either Brazil or the United States.

Feyisa Lilesa is right to be concerned about human rights violations targeting the Oromo in Ethiopia.

Early in August of this year, at least 97 people were killed and hundreds more injured when Ethiopian security forces fired live bullets at peaceful protesters across Oromia region and in parts of Amhara. A disproportionate violent police response to protests has resulted in over 500 protestors’ deaths recorded in Oromia region since November 2015 and over 100 others in the Amhara and Oromia region in the month of August.

Many others, like Feyisa Lilesa have fled Ethiopia and sought safety in other countries. The violent police response to protests has caused a massive movement of Oromos out of Ethiopia. Unlike Feyisa Lilesa, their stories remain untold, and the places where they have sought protection are not so welcoming.

In the past month, Amnesty International has been receiving credible reports that Djiboutian police have been rounding up and detaining hundreds of Amhara and Oromo Ethiopian asylum seekers and refugees with the aim of deporting them back to Ethiopia. Summary deportations of Ethiopian asylum seekers and refugees from Djibouti occur on a daily basis.   The number of deportations to Ethiopia escalated after the weekend of 7-8 August, the same weekend that large protests in both Oromo and Amhara regions of Ethiopia occurred. The Ethiopian government has often accused Ethiopians outside the country of planning these protests.

The asylum seekers and refugees in Djibouti face a real risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment upon their return to Ethiopia. Their deportations violate not only their rights to non-refoulement (the right not to be transferred to a place where the individual would be at real risk of persecution or other serious human rights violations), but also their procedural rights to oppose the deportations on human rights grounds.

Through crowd funding initiatives it is reported that more than $100,000 has been raised to assist Olympic champion Feyisa Lilesa in his efforts to obtain safety. A sign once again that when their story is told, the public is willing and able to show compassion and support towards refugees who need protection.

The Ethiopian refugees in Djibouti also need your support. Please respond Amnesty International’s recent urgent action on behalf of Ethiopians facing removal from Djibouti to Ethiopia.

Take Action Here: Djibouti: Don’t deport asylum seekers and refugees

Gloria Nafziger is Amnesty International Canada’s Refugee Coordinator. Follow her on Twitter @refugeescanada