Abuse in Ethiopia and abuse in Egypt: a rock and a hard place

Accounts from 83 Oromo refugees in Cairo

The difficulties faced by 10,000 Oromo refugees in Egypt, however severe, may seem trivial compared to the horrors currently experienced in Ethiopia as the focus for government and Amhara nationalist forces has shifted from their genocidal war in Tigray to Oromia Region, where over 45 million Oromo civilians have been subjected to mass killings, forced displacement, ethnic cleansing and man-made famine.

Nonetheless, the telling of the stories of Oromo interviewees in Cairo is an important insight into the pattern of increasing abuse and oppression of Oromo and others of the marginalised majority of Ethiopia’s population for over a century which has been documented for the last three decades by the Oromia Support Group. Their histories are a distillation of human rights violations perpetrated by the TPLF-led EPRDF government from 1991 to 2018 and the accelerating abuses under the Prosperity Party government led by Abiy Ahmed since 2018.


57 Oromo refugees were interviewed in Cairo in September/October 2022, of whom 56 told of their history in Ethiopia. Another 26 were interviewed in May 2013. Their stories have hitherto remained unpublished. Thus, 82 first-hand accounts of abuses in Ethiopia are published for the first time in this report.

There has been at least a five-fold increase in the number of Oromo fleeing to Egypt in the last decade. All interviewees fled from severe, widespread human rights abuses in Ethiopia.

Interviewees in 2013 reported the killing of 76 civilians, of whom 33 were their parents or siblings. There were 38 summary executions, 29 of which were in 1992 and 1993. Another 20 close relatives who disappeared in detention are now believed to be dead. In 2022, the killing of 100 civilians and detainees was reported, including 15 family members and 84 detainees in Hamaresa military camp, E Hararge, in 1999. In addition, 40-50 captured Tigrayan soldiers were witnessed being murdered by lethal injection between January and June 2022.

Extraordinarily high rates of torture and rape of detainees, reported previously by Oromo asylum-seekers in the UK and refugees in Kenya, Djibouti, Somaliland and South Africa, were corroborated. Overall, 59 (72%) of 82 interviewees in Cairo reported being tortured – 77% of the 77 former detainees. Of 54 men, 45 (83%) were tortured – 88% of the 51 who had been detained. 14 out of 28 women (50%) were tortured – 54% of the 26 former detainees.

No fewer than 20 of the 28 women (71%) were raped by Ethiopian security forces – 77% of the 26 who had been detained. One male was also raped in detention.

Barbaric treatment by people-smugglers and traffickers who trade refugees as commodities on their journeys to Egypt has evolved from torture, enslavement and organ-harvesting to a more sustainably profitable business involving extortion, enforced by violence and rape after refugees arrive in Cairo.

Despite comprising the majority of Ethiopian refugees in Cairo, community-based Oromo organisations have no contact with UNHCR or its partner organisations. Although the Oromo Elders Union represents Oromo of all faiths and from all zones in Oromia Region, it is not trusted or accepted as such by UNHCR and NGOs, since corrupt practices by previous Oromo organisations and their contacts in NGOs were exposed several years ago. There is no longer any body which represents Oromo interests that has influence with UNHCR or other organisations in Cairo. UNHCR has not reached out to the Oromo community.

Xenophobia and hostility to refugees is very common. Although disputed by members of the NGO community, Oromo refugees reported that this was particularly directed at them because of the dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the building of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile. Egyptian government employees, health care professionals and UNHCR local staff and guards told them so. Police are corrupt and prey on refugees.

In Cairo, rates of street violence, especially sexual violence, are as high as or higher than anywhere else in the world. It is a growing problem. Whereas seven incidents of rape, robbery, beating, kidnap and attempted abduction were reported by 26 interviewees in 2013, there were over 70 such incidents reported by 57 interviewees in 2022. Other organisations corroborated this huge increase in violence and sexual violence in the last decade.

Apparently random street violence and targeted attacks by Ethiopian embassy operatives were commonly reported but the majority of violence and sexual violence was perpetrated by interconnected criminal gangs of people-smugglers and job brokers, to extort money demanded by traffickers taking refugees across Sudan to Egypt.

Very few refugees and their families have any regular income, relying on outside help and occasional casual work, usually cleaning or manual labour. Financial help from NGOs was reported in 2013 but only three of the 57 interviewed in 2022 received direct assistance, notwithstanding medical assessment and care, legal advice and counselling provided by national and international NGOs.

Several schools are available to refugee children but most, if not all, attract a small fee which some are unable to afford. Higher education facilities are not accessible, leaving young Oromo and their parents frustrated because of their lack of prospects.

Fear of random street violence and attacks by Ethiopian embassy operatives and people-smugglers prevented refugees, especially those interviewed in 2022, from working, seeking work, taking children to school or even mixing with other children to play.

Those who are not registered asylum-seekers and those who have been refused refugee status by UNHCR are particularly vulnerable because they are liable to detention and deportation.

Severe mental illness, suicides and attempted suicides were reported by interviewees in 2013 and 2022.

UNHCR is understaffed, underfunded and disinterested. The organisation is failing refugees, especially Oromo. There are serious and increasing delays in registration, refugee status determination and in hearing appeals against unjust and ill-informed refusals. Translation at interviews is inaccurate and inconsistencies are used to challenge the credibility of refugees.

UNHCR’s ability and willingness to protect refugees from detention and deportation has reduced in recent years.

UNHCR is virtually inaccessible to Oromo refugees and asylum-seekers, and their advocates.

The majority of Oromo asylum-seekers are refused refugee status by UNHCR. The refusal rate is increasing according to local NGO personnel.

Less than 1% of refugees in Egypt are resettled to a third country each year. More than 20 families experienced delays, disappointments and last-minute cancellations according to interviewees in 2022.

About advocacy4oromia

The aim of Advocacy for Oromia-A4O is to advocate for the people’s causes to bring about beneficial outcomes in which the people able to resolve to their issues and concerns to control over their lives. Advocacy for Oromia may provide information and advice in order to assist people to take action to resolve their own concerns. It is engaged in promoting and advancing causes of disadvantaged people to ensure that their voice is heard and responded to. The organisation also committed to assist the integration of people with refugee background in the Australian society through the provision of culturally-sensitive services.

Posted on January 29, 2023, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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