An Ethiopian Oromo woman died yesterday, after attempting to assist a man who set himself on fire in front of the UNHCR office in Cairo, in protest of the organisation’s lack of assistance.
(Cairo Scene) — An Ethiopian Oromo man seeking refuge in Egypt set himself on fire last Thursday in front of the UNHCR office in 6thof October City, in protest of the large-scale rejection of Oromo asylum-seekers fleeing persecution in their home country. The episode, which was recorded on video by eye-witnesses, led to the death yesterday of an Oromo Ethiopian woman who attempted to assist him.
Following the situation, the UN agency closed its doors yesterday indicating “security concerns” – the organization reportedly issues asylum rejections every Thursday – and published an official statement on their Facebook page today.
“UNHCR deeply regrets the tragic passing of an Ethiopian Oromo asylum-seeker on 26 July 2016, following a violent incident outside UNHCR office in Cairo. She was a mother of two young children and UNHCR would like to offer its sincerest condolences to her family and friends for their loss.”
“UNHCR is mindful of the frustrations and anxieties that asylum-seekers and refugees may feel because of lengthy procedures, due to the high number of applicants in Egypt. As UNHCR is committed to ensure fair, consistent and transparent processes for asylum-seekers and refugees of all nationalities, it calls for the cooperation by all refugee communities and appeals for their understanding and non-violence,” the post reads.
The episode sparked outrage amongst Ethiopian members of Oromo ethnicity, as their requests for asylum are often rejected by the organisation. CairoScene has contacted UNHCR Egypt’s Public Information Officer and has yet to receive a reply.
“It is sad to hear that a single mother of two children has been burnt. Although the number of asylum seekers are high, it is up to [the] UNHCR office to hire more international and internal staff to solve the problems. The other main problem is that many RSD (Refugee status determinations) interviewers didn’t allow people to explain details about their claims because of time. This should be changed,” one Facebook user, Abdataa Rabbii Sayyidaa, said in a comment.
“I am observing that the UNHCR in Cairo is [rejecting] most of the Oromo cases based on bias while the refugees are trying to address the circumstances and why they left their country. Even the UNHCR has clear information about the Ethiopian regime crackdown on Oromo (…) and what is going on in the Oromia region. Even the UNHCR has more recent information [regarding] the Oromia region [being] under emergency military ruling at this time,” another user said.
The Oromo – Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group with over 35 million members – have been fleeing persecution from their home country in recent years, but unrest intensified in November 2015. On November 12, Oromo protesters took to the streets of Ginchi – a town 80 kilometers from Addis Ababa – after authorities had decided to clear a forest and a football field for an investment project. According to Human Rights Watch, protests broke out in at least 400 different locations across all the 17 zones in Oromia, where security forces shot into crowds, summarily killed people during mass roundups, and tortured detained protesters. “The Ethiopian government has claimed that protesters are connected to banned opposition groups, a common government tactic to discredit popular dissent, and has charged numerous opposition members under the country’s repressive counterterrorism law,” HRW says in a report.
According to Amnesty International, between 2011 and 2014, “at least 5,000 Oromos have been arrested based on their actual or suspected peaceful opposition to the government.” In numerous cases, actual or suspected dissenters have been detained without charge or trial, killed by security services during protests, arrests and in detention.