Amplify our unheard voices

This speech was given on the 22nd of May 2014 in Sund, Norway at a public gathering attended by Sund’s mayor. It addresses the political unrest and human rights abuses in Ethiopia, and draws attention to the conditions of Ethiopian asylum seekers in Norway, as well as to how their asylum requests are being neglected by the Norwegian immigration authorities. The original speech has been edited by visAvis.

BY MOGES MULUGETA AMHARAY • ILLUSTRATION BY ALLAN CRUZ • FROM #10, 2014

Dear Norwegian friends and fellow asylum seekers!

Most of us here – particularly Ethiopians who have been living in Sund Asylum Camp and other centers since we arrived in Norway in the aftermath of the election in Ethiopia in May 2005 – have been waiting patiently for so long for our pending political and humanitarian asylum cases to be reviewed by the immigration authorities. But unfortunately, most of us who after a long wait in the camps have got two negative answers or more, are still obliged to stay for so long here and in other camps with nothing to do.

My political asylum case is now being reviewed by the UNE (The Norwegian Immigration Appeals Board), and I might be facing deportation. However, I still have hope for a positive outcome – even after nearly seven years of living idly in camps without serving any purpose. I have gone through camps such as Loren, Solbakken, Leira, Ullensvang, and now Sund with little money to live on. Even though I went through a Norwegian course, I still lack practice of the language because of my current status as an asylum seeker living in an isolated camp.

When most of us came to Norway – from three to nine years ago or more – we all believed that we had the proper documentation to support our cases. We had presented the relevant documents to the Norwegian Police, the UDI (The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration), or the UNE authorities in accordance with the Norwegian immigration policy, which requires proof of the potential threats we are facing – such as detention, torture, prosecutions, trumped-up charges with falsified evidences as well as other kinds of systematic rights abuses – if we get deported forcefully from Norway.

We, the asylum seekers in Sund Asylum Camp, strongly hope that the Police, the UDI or the UNE will start considering all of our asylum cases in the light of the current social and political unrest in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has suffered a terrible political crisis since its disputed election in May 2005. Before the election, I campaigned for the country’s pro-democracy party, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), which later achieved a sweeping victory in the capital, Addis Ababa. But to my dismay, the results were overturned, and protests broke out amid allegations of fraud. The ruling EPRDF party’s security police forces quickly began cracking down on the members and supporters of the major opposition Party CUD. A team of election observers led by Ana Maria Gomes of the European Union reported of extensive human rights violations in the months that followed. 193 peaceful demonstrators were killed by security forces, and tens of thousands of others were imprisoned in military barracks throughout the country. I escaped arrest and moved to the countryside, but my affiliations with the opposition party subjected me to continued threats, harassment, and intense intimidation even long after the election.

11_Amplify our unheard voices_Allan Cruz

We, the Ethiopian asylum seekers currently awaiting a response, are not here to complain about the Norwegian police, the UDI, or the UNE, but only to try to make our Norwegian friends in Sund Municipality understand our ill-fated situation here or elsewhere in Norway. For the last seven years or more we have been living in camps without any possibilities for further professional, academic, or vocational training; without work permits or possibilities for finding any suitable jobs; with almost no transport accommodation to visit friends and relatives nearby. We have been sitting idly in our camps, bored and frustrated. We all hope that Norway’s newly elected government of Erna Solberg will fulfill its obligations, and the promises they made during their election campaign ten months ago where I myself took part in several political debates about asylum policy.

The Sund Municipality ought to listen to us and amplify our unheard voices in unison to Norwegian politicians and immigration authorities. Everyone ought to hear about the current situation in Ethiopia: the political repression, the intensive human rights abuses, the economic mismanagement, the rampant corruption, the high youth unemployment rate, the rising inflationary rate, the government’s misuse of foreign aid to its political advantage, and the bad governance as a whole. All that has forced us to end up in Norwegian asylum camps as refugees with various kinds of asylum requests, some of us with families and children, and some of us alone with relatives and loved ones left behind.

We, the Ethiopian asylum seekers, who have been waiting for so long here in Sund camp or elsewhere in the country, use this opportunity to make our voices heard and assure our friends that, “Yes, every asylum seeker here agrees that home is better than anywhere else, but all of you must understand that there is something very wrong in Ethiopia.”