Archive for the ‘Ethiopian News’ Category
BBC News, Sinai
Lamlam, 17, is one of thousands of people who make the treacherous journey from Eritrea to Egypt each year. Many fall victim to unscrupulous people traffickers, who kidnap them and demand ransom money from their families.
"The kidnappers would make me lie on my back and then they would get me to ring my family to ask them to pay the ransom they wanted," she says, lifting up the back of her shirt to expose a rash of deep scars.
"As soon as one of my parents answered the phone, the men would melt flaming plastic over my back and inner thighs and I would scream and scream in pain.
‘Please help me’
I will never forgot the desperate words, broadcast on the BBC, of an Eritrean refugee who was being held hostage in Egypt’s north Sinai.
"It’s bad, bad. Have no enough food, enough water," a tearful and desperate man called Philemon Semere told me on the phone last November.
"Always hit by sticks and burnt by fire and electricity. Daily burning by fire. My body is burning. Please, please help me, Mike."
Semere, along with two other Eritrean refugees, is still in the hands of his kidnappers who have threatened to kill him if his family fails to pay the $25,000 they are demanding.
When I asked the leader of the kidnappers how he could justify torturing and murdering hostages he replied without any sense of shame or regret: "A lot of people I have killed here. This is my work, I live by this work."
Listen to the interview
"This, they hoped, would put extra pressure on my mother and father to find the money."
A man standing next to her gently places a hand on her shoulder as she finishes speaking.
Zere, his faced swathed in a red and white scarf, was one of those kept with her in a windowless basement room for almost a year.
"They had about four of five of us tied up together and they would pour water on the floor and then electrocute the water so that all of us would get electrocuted at the same time," he says.
"They would starve us, they would burn us and they would not let us sleep."
Zere says that nine out of the 20 people held hostage with him died. But, he tells me, by that point those still alive would have welcomed that fate.
"All of us were actually hoping for death because that would have been an escape from the torture."
In fact Lamlam and Zere were able to escape – rescued by a local Bedouin leader, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maniri.
A small building at the back of his house is now home to a dozen people that he has rescued.
Sometimes though, he says, it is too late.
"Many people we bring here have been really badly tortured.
"In two cases recently some of those we rescued died, here in this house, because they had been injured so much."
‘Hundreds of bodies’
The UN has described the growth of the kidnap and people trafficking trades in Sinai as one of the most unreported humanitarian crises in the world.
It estimates that 3,000 Eritreans alone fled their repressive and impoverished country last year.
Many headed for the swollen refugee camps of neighbouring eastern Sudan, now home to more than 90,000 people.
The UN says that 70% of the new arrivals then vanish.
Many fall into the hands of ruthless and well-armed people-smuggling gangs as they try to make their way to Israel or Egypt in search of a better life.
Whilst some do make it through, others are sold on to different gangs two or three times as they are trafficked north.
Hostage victims are often taken to the largely lawless, desert area of north Sinai, where their kidnappers can operate with near impunity.
In 2012, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said that a "criminal network" of smugglers and traffickers was "taking profit of the desperate situation of many Eritreans".
Egyptian security forces do operate in this region but only in limited numbers because of a long-standing peace agreement with neighbouring Israel.
In the mortuary in the town of El Arish, the extent of the carnage caused by the gruesome kidnap trade is even more evident.
"Since the revolution there have been hundreds of bodies because the borders have been more lax," says mortician Era Ki, as he points towards the deep-freeze cabinets in front of us.
"The corpses usually have torture-style injuries.
"The ones that come from the Bedouin [people-traffickers] have always been tortured to get their families to pay ransoms.
"If their families can’t pay, they have no use for them and torture them to death."
Even those whose families somehow manage to pay the large ransoms demanded, often feel they cannot go home now that their relatives have been financially ruined.
Berhane, an Eritrean refugee I met living in a squalid Cairo slum is one.
After being beaten, tortured and electrocuted for months before his family paid $30,000 (£20,000) for his release, he says he has constant terrifying flashbacks and cannot face going home.
Berhane has this message for any Eritreans thinking of following in his footsteps: "Stay where you are.
"Whatever you do, don’t let yourself fall into the hands of the traffickers."
Mike Thomson’s Assignment, Escape from Sinai, will be broadcast on the BBC World Service on Thursday 7 March at 09:05 GMT.
Ms Israel Yityish Aynaw
(JTA) — Yityish Aynaw, a former Israeli army officer, became the first Ethiopian-Israeli to win the Miss Israel pageant.
A panel of judges awarded the title to Aynaw, a 21-year-old model who came to Israel about a decade ago, at the International Convention Center Haifa on Wednesday.
"It’s important that a member of the Ethiopian community wins the competition for the first time," she was quoted by Israeli media as telling the judges in response to a question. "There are many different communities of many different colors in Israel, and it’s important to show that to the world."
Aynaw came to Israel with her family when she was 12. Acclimating to Israel was difficult at first, Aynaw said, but she picked up the language quickly with the help of a friend.
She has been working as a saleswoman at a clothing store since her army discharge.
During the competition, Aynaw cited the slain American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. as one of her heroes.
"He fought for justice and equality, and that’s one of the reasons I’m here: I want to show that my community has many pretty qualities that aren’t always represented in the media," she said.
She said Dr King fought for justice and equality, and that’s one of the reasons I’m here – to show that there are also good things in my community, which are not presented in the media.
"I see it as a mission to represent Israel’s different colors. There are not enough dark-skinned models in Israel.
"I hope to become a successful model thanks to the contest and create a change in the perception of dark-skinned models. I would be happy to be the first Ethiopian television host, an Israeli Tyra Banks."
Brendan Pringle, Editor
Ethiopia makes help difficult for world donors advocating civil society, rights
A well-known German foundation decamps from Ethiopia. Other long-time donors find new official agency and law restrictive and confusing.
By William Davison | Christian Science Monitor – 1 hr 2 mins ago.. .
Of the many outreach programs run here by Germany’s Heinrich Böll Foundation, one caused special alarm for an official new Ethiopian agency that is starting to block and restrict the promotion of civil society ideas.
The Böll program, “SurVivArt: Art for the Right to a Good Life,” dealt with notions of healthy, intelligent, and successful living, and illustrated differing concepts of home, food, and choice consumer goods – all done through sculpture and video arts.
To a Western-oriented eye, it seemed harmless.
But officials at the “Charities and Societies Agency” fairly flipped when they saw a word implying “rights” in the program title.
"’Why has this got right in it?’ they asked," remembers Patrick Berg, the foundation’s former Ethiopia director, who just returned to Germany after deciding that the agency and its zealous application of a restrictive new law made meaningful work impossible.
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For years, Heinrich Böll’s activities included training regional parliamentarians, running a forum to discuss gender issues, and organizing a model African Union for students. But no more.
The new law, adopted several years ago but only now being enforced, bars charities that receive more than 10 percent of overseas funds from engaging in the promotion of a panoply of human rights ideas, including for children and disabled, for democratic education, and for other staples of civil society.
“First we were forced to abandon rights-based work, now even art has become suspicious," says Mr. Berg of the law, called the "Charities and Societies Proclamation," or CSO law.
Foreign charities and NGOs in Ethiopia are all currently undergoing an annual audit to weed out funding and ideas that break the law.
The law is a legacy of the late prime minister Meles Zenawi who wanted to curb foreign groups unaccountably advocating their own values in sensitive areas. The Ethiopian leader of 21 years, who died in August, said that Western societies evolved without external meddling, and so should Ethiopia.
But critics, while commending Ethiopia’s desire to be independent, say in fact the law is being used as a political sledgehammer to thwart and crush dissent. Amnesty International argued in 2009 the law was hostile to freedom of expression and association and was harmful to Ethiopia’s fledgling civil society.
ONE OF WORLD’S POOREST NATIONS
Some NGOs and donors say the zeal of the new agency threatens to drive off assistance that likely helps the nation and, more particularly, vulnerable people. (The Monitor also reported today on Egyptian government efforts to clamp down on foreign-funding of NGOs.)
Some one-third of Ethiopia’s 90 million people live on under $1.25 a day, making it one of the world’s poorest nations and one of the top aid recipients. It received $3.6 billion in 2011 from donors, over 11 percent of national income, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Part of the complaint against the new official restrictions are that they are applied willy nilly and are confusing. Many NGOs use “rights” as a standpoint of civil society virtue, such as a right to education, or clean water.
But one executive in a NGO that wished not to be named said the agency told his outfit not to promote the rights of girls and women not to be circumcised or forced into marriage – but that advocating for other rights seemed acceptable.
"Charities like ours are here to work with the government on improving the lives of Ethiopians," he says. "The uncertainty surrounding the law wastes time and prevents us from focusing fully on developing and delivering good programs."
The British government this month however was promised a written assurance that all organizations working on violence against women and issues like female genital mutilation will be allowed to continue.
STRINGENT BUDGET CONTROLS
Another major complaint is that new laws stipulate that only 30 percent of budgets go to administration, interpreted in 2011 to include most travel and training cost. This is proving unworkable. Some 80 percent of groups defaulted on these terms last year.
Of 29 charities funded by US Agency for International Development, 27 can’t comply, according to knowledgeable sources.
Nigist Haile, an Ethiopian, runs the Center for African Women’s Economic Empowerment (CAWEE) in the capital, Addis Ababa. The aim of the organization funded by Canada’s development agency and the United Nations and WTO’s International Trade Center is to help female entrepreneurs access international markets.
CAWEE is assisting Hilina Enriched Foods Processing Center develop a marketing strategy to export spicy peanuts to the Middle East by providing consultants. Boosting sales abroad is a crucial objective of a foreign-exchange starved country. Ethiopia’s imports cost $7.5 billion more than exports last year.
“I think they are the only one who are working with women very practically," says Deputy General Manager Hilina Belete about CAWEE.
Ms. Nigist also hires consultants to train businesswomen. The law classifies the consultants’ fees as an administrative cost, giving CAWEE a "very serious problem" in meeting the 30 percent administration rule. Unless special consideration is granted, sessions will be stopped, Nigist says.
"Again the women are suffering," she says. "We should be considered a development partner, but they are not seeing it that way."
Ethiopia’s government has been popular with donors such as the US, EU, and UK partly because it’s seen as prioritizing the poor and spending on them effectively. It is also seen as a reliable ally in the unstable Horn of Africa.
Daniel Bekele, director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division, says the agency and laws are not a rejection of international partners for Ethiopia, but about domestic politics and a response to the power shown by civil society groups in previous elections.
"I believe the CSO law was a response to 2005 [elections]," Mr. Bekele says, a time when voter education campaigns led to huge turnouts, civil society monitored polls and mediated disputes. "Unfortunately it was perceived as a political activity … or as a politically-biased activity."
Getachew Reda, a government spokesman says the law is needed to stop corrupt charities "running amok" and using "per diems for vacations in Honolulu."
If training is a "stock in trade" and done in a cost-efficient manner to benefit Ethiopians, then it won’t be classed as an administrative cost, he says. But he adds that if charities make it their business to "criss-cross Africa paying all sorts of stipends to employees, then it will be."
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In this Friday Feb. 22, 2013 photo, a large bill board of late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi which reads in Amharic "He was born for the people , he lived for the people, he died for the people. Great Ethiopian leader your vision will remain the national treasure. Hero will never die, we love you " on one of the streets in Addis Ababa. If you look around Ethiopia’s capital, it would be hard to know that Meles Zenawi died six months ago. His pictures are posted everywhere and his successor is vowing to implement his vision without any alternations. Ethiopian leaders are having a hard time moving past Meles, a man who ruled this country for two decades. (AP Photo/Elias Asmare)
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