Ethiopia: Oromo migrants fear deportation

SANA'A, 30 May 2007 (IRIN) - The Oromo people in Yemen have called on international organisations and rights groups to guarantee their rights and ensure their security in the country. Their representatives told IRIN they lead miserable lives in Yemen and live in fear of deportation.

Mohammed Mousa, 27, an Oromo who has an ID card from the Somali community, is able to work in a sewage plant in Sana'a. He told IRIN that in April a group of young Yemeni men attacked him after he received his salary.

"They beat me harshly until my head bled. They took all my salary [about US $50] and fled. Had I run away and refused to give them the money, I would have been accused of theft. And if I'd gone to the police station, they would have arrested me as I don't have a card. It's a life of degradation," he said.

Mona Tareq, a 35-year-old woman from the Oromo community in Sana'a whose husband died a few days ago of kidney problems, said they did not have enough money for the surgery he needed.

Mona now lives alone and said she knows nothing about her five children in Ethiopia. "I am cut off from my family. And if I return home, I will be killed [by the Ethiopian government] because I am opposed to it," she added.


Oromos say they come to Yemen because the Ethiopian government is persecuting them.

"We have come to Yemen in order to escape persecution, torture and killings by the Ethiopian government," Jamal Abdowaday, an Oromo leader in Sana'a, told IRIN. The Ethiopian authorities, however, deny this, saying the Oromos in Yemen are economic migrants.


Ameen Mohammed, an official at the Yemeni Immigration Authority, told IRIN the Yemeni government does not treat Oromos the same as they treat Somali asylum seekers.

"They [the Oromos] are economic migrants. The authorities deport those who come to Yemen illegally," he added.

Very few Oromos have refugee cards. Most carry cards issued by the Somali community in Yemen, Abdowaday said, adding: "Oromos live in fear of being deported to Ethiopia by the Yemeni authorities because they are not treated as refugees."

He said that when Oromos arrive in the country, the authorities arrest them and then deport them, which is why they prefer not to go to refugee camps. According to him, the Oromos - like the Somalis - come to Yemen by sea.

"They are smuggled in. Some are arrested by Yemeni coastguards and others disembark from boats and go unnoticed," he said.

Discrimination allegations

Oromos say they are mistreated by the locals. "We are subject to harassment, arrests, and discrimination," Abdowaday said.

"Our children can't go to school. They are deprived of education... They have become like animals confined in small rooms. They can't play in the streets for fear of being beaten or harassed by local children," Abdowaday added.

When they are abused they are scared to complain to the police for fear of deportation, as they have no official documentation or refugee cards. Even when they want to rent a house, landlords ask for ID or refugee cards, which most of them lack.

Ameen Mohammed denied there was discrimination against Oromos: "There is no discrimination against them. We apply the law to them if they violate it. When they get into trouble we apply the law, and they receive justice if they are harassed. Also, when they are detained after arriving here illegally, we check to see if they really qualify for refugee status. If they do, we grant it to them."