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Ethiopians brave deserts and smugglers on the way to Saudi

February 14, 2020

LAC ASSAL, Djibouti (AP) — “Patience,” Mohammed Eissa told himself. He whispered it every time he felt like giving up. The sun was brutal, reflecting off the thick layer of salt encrusting the barren earth around Lac Assal, a lake 10 times saltier than the ocean.

Nothing grows here. Birds are said to fall dead out of the sky from the searing heat. And yet the 35-year-old Ethiopian walked on, as he had for three days, since he left his homeland for Saudi Arabia.

Nearby are two dozen graves, piles of rocks, with no headstones. People here say they belong to migrants who like Eissa embarked on an epic journey of hundreds of miles, from villages and towns in Ethiopia through the Horn of Africa countries Djibouti or Somalia, then across the sea and through the war-torn country of Yemen.

The flow of migrants taking this route has grown. According to the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration, 150,000 arrived in Yemen from the Horn of Africa in 2018, a 50% jump from the year before. The number in 2019 was similar.

This story is part of an occasional series, “ Outsourcing Migrants,” produced with the support of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

They dream of reaching Saudi Arabia, and earning enough to escape poverty by working as laborers, housekeepers, servants, construction workers and drivers.

But even if they reach their destination, there is no guarantee they can stay; the kingdom often expels them. Over the past three years, the IOM reported 9,000 Ethiopians were deported each month.

Many migrants have made the journey multiple times in what has become an unending loop of arrivals and deportations.

Eissa is among them. This is his third trip to Saudi Arabia.

In his pockets, he carries a text neatly handwritten in Oromo, his native language. It tells stories of the Prophet Muhammad, who fled his home in Mecca to Medina to seek refuge from his enemies.

“I depend on God,” Eissa said.

“I HAVE TO GO TO SAUDI”

Associated Press reporters traveled along part of the migrants’ trail through Djibouti and Yemen in July and August. Eissa was among the travelers they met; another was Mohammad Ibrahim, who comes from Arsi, the same region as Eissa.

Perched in the country’s central highlands, it’s an area where subsistence farmers live off small plots of land, growing vegetables or grain. When the rains come, the families can eat. But in the dry months of the summer, food dwindles and hunger follows.

The 22-year-old Ibrahim had never been able to find a job. His father died when his mother was pregnant with him — she told him stories of how his father went off to war and never returned.

One day, Ibrahim saw a friend in his village with a new motorcycle. He was making a little money carrying passengers. Ibrahim went to his mother and asked her to buy him one. He could use it, he told her, to support her and his sister. Impossible, she said. She would have to sell her tiny piece of land where they grow corn and barley.

“This is when I thought, ‘I have to go to Saudi,’” Ibrahim said.

So he reached out to the local “door opener” — a broker who would link him to a chain of smugglers along the way.

Often migrants are told they can pay when they arrive in Saudi Arabia. Those who spoke to the AP said they were initially quoted prices ranging from $300 to $800 for the whole journey.

How the trip goes depends vitally on the smuggler.

In the best-case scenario, the smuggler is a sort of tour organizer. They arrange boats for the sea crossing, either from Djibouti or Somalia. They run houses along the way where migrants stay and provide transport from town to town in pickup trucks. Once in Saudi Arabia, the migrants call home to have payment wired to the smuggler.

In the worst case, the smuggler is a brutal exploiter, imprisoning and torturing migrants for more money, dumping them alone on the route or selling them into virtual slave labor on farms.

Intensified border controls and crackdowns by the Ethiopian government, backed by European Union funding, have eliminated some reliable brokers, forcing migrants to rely on inexperienced smugglers, increasing the danger.

THE LONG WALK

Eissa decided he would not use smugglers for his journey.

He’d successfully made the trip twice before. The first time, in 2011, he worked as a steel worker in the kingdom, making $ 25 a day and earning enough to buy a plot of land in the Arsi region’s main town, Asella. He made the trip again two years later, walking for two months to reach Saudi Arabia, where he earned $ 530 a month as a janitor. But he was arrested and deported before he could collect his pay.

Without a smuggler, his third attempt would be cheaper. But it would not be safe, or easy.

Eissa picked up rides from his home to the border with Djibouti, then walked. His second day there, he was robbed at knifepoint by several men who took his money. The next day, he walked six hours in the wrong direction, back toward Ethiopia, before he found the right path again.

When the AP met him at Lac Assal, Eissa said he had been living off bread and water for days, taking shelter in a rusty, abandoned shipping container. He had a small bottle filled with water from a well at the border, covered with fabric to keep out dust.

He had left behind a wife, nine sons and a daughter. His wife cares for his elderly father. The children work the farm growing vegetables, but harvests are unpredictable: “If there’s no rain, there’s nothing.”

With the money he expected to earn in Saudi Arabia, he planned to move his family to Asella. “I will build a house and take my children to town to learn the religious and worldly sciences,” he said.

THE TRIP

The 100-mile (120-kilometer) trip across Djibouti can take days.

Many migrants end up in the country’s capital, also named Djibouti, living in slums and working to earn money for the crossing. Young women often are trapped in prostitution or enslaved as servants.

The track through Djibouti ends on a long, virtually uninhabited coast outside the town of Obock, the shore closest to Yemen.

There, the AP saw a long line of dozens of migrants led by smuggling guides, descending from the mountains onto the rocky coastal plain. Here they would stay, sometimes for several days, and wait for their turn on the boats that every night cross the narrow Bab el-Mandab strait to Yemen.

During the wait, smugglers brought out large communal pots of spaghetti and barrels of water for their clients. Young men and women washed themselves in nearby wells. Others sat in the shade of the scrawny, twisted acacia trees. Two girls braided each other’s hair.

One young man, Korram Gabra, worked up the nerve to call home to ask his father for the equivalent of $200 for the crossing and the Yemen leg of the trip. It would be his first time talking with his father since he sneaked away from home in the night.

“My father will be upset when he hears my voice, but he’ll keep it in his heart and won’t show it,” he said. “If I get good money, I want to start a business.”

At night, AP witnessed a daily smuggling routine: small lights flashing in the darkness signaled that their boat was ready. More than 100 men and women, boys and girls were ordered to sit in silence on the beach. The smugglers spoke in hushed conversations on satellite phones to their counterparts in Yemen on the other side of the sea. There was a moment of worry when a black rubber dinghy appeared out in the water_a patrol of Djibouti’s marines. After half an hour it motored away. The marines had received their daily bribe of around $100 dollars, the smugglers explained.

Loaded into the 50-foot-long open boat, migrants were warned not to move or talk during the crossing . Most had never seen the sea before . Now they would be on it for eight hours in darkness.

Eissa made the crossing on another day, paying about $65 to a boat captain — the only payment to a smuggler he would make.

“IT WAS A TERRIBLE THING”

Ibrahim took an alternative route, through Somalia. He traveled nearly 900 kilometers (500 miles), walking and catching rides to cross the border and reach the town of Las Anoud.

Isolated in Somalia’s deserts, the town is the hub for traffickers transporting Ethiopians to Yemen. It is also a center for brutal torture, according to multiple migrants. The smugglers took Ibrahim and other migrants to a compound, stripped him and tied him dangling from a wooden rafter. They splashed cold water on him and flogged him.

For 12 days, he was imprisoned, starved and tortured. He saw six other migrants die of severe dehydration and hunger, their bodies buried in shallow graves nearby. “It’s in the middle of the vast desert,” he said. “If you think of running away, you don’t even know where to go.”

At one point, smugglers put a phone to his ear and made him plead with his mother for ransom money.

“Nothing is more important than you,” she told him. She sold the family’s sole piece of land and wired to smugglers just over $1,000.

The smugglers transported him to the port of Bosaso on Somalia’s Gulf of Aden coast. He was piled into a wooden boat with some 300 other men and women, “like canned sardines,” he said.

Throughout the 30-hour journey, the Somali captain and his crew beat anyone who moved. Crammed in place, the migrants had to urinate and vomit where they sat.

“I felt trapped, couldn’t breathe, or move for many hours until my body became stiff,” he said. “God forbid, it was a terrible thing.”

Within sight of Yemen’s shore, the smugglers pushed the migrants off the boat into water too deep to touch the bottom.

Flailing in the water, they formed human chains to help the women and children onto shore.

Ibrahim collapsed on the sand and passed out. When he opened his eyes, he felt the hunger stabbing him.

“FAR FROM MY DREAMS”

Migrants with reliable, organized smugglers are usually transported across Yemen in stages to the migrant hub cities further down the line, Ataq , Marib, Jawf, and Saada where half the distance is under internationally-recognized government control and the second under Houthi rebels, fighting US-backed coalition since 2015.

But for thousands of others, it’s a confusing and dangerous march down unfamiliar roads and highways.

A security official in Lahj province outside the main southern city, Aden, said bodies of dead migrants turn up from time to time. Just a few days earlier, he told the AP, a farmer called his office about a smell coming from one of his fields. A patrol found a young migrant there who had been dead for days.

Another patrol found 100 migrants, including women, hidden on a farm, the official said. The patrol brought them food, he said, but then had to leave them.

“Where would we take them and what would we do with them?” he asked, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to the press.

Many migrants languish for months in the slums of Basateen, a district of Aden that was once a green area of gardens but now is covered in decrepit shacks of cinder blocks, concrete, tin and tarps, amid open sewers.

Over the summer, an Aden soccer stadium became a temporary refuge for thousands of migrants. At first, security forces used it to house migrants they captured in raids. Other migrants showed up voluntarily, hoping for shelter. The IOM distributed food at the stadium and arranged voluntary repatriation back home for some. The soccer pitch and stands, already destroyed from the war, became a field of tents, with clothes lines strung up around them.

Among the migrants there was Nogos, a 15-year-old who was one of at least 7,000 minors who made the journey without an adult in 2019, a huge jump from 2,000 unaccompanied minors a year earlier, according to IOM figures

Upon landing in Yemen, Nogos had been imprisoned by smugglers. For more than three weeks, they beat him, demanding his family send $500. When he called home, his father curtly refused: “I’m not the one torturing you.”

Nogos can’t blame his father. “If he had money and didn’t help me, I’d be upset,” he said. “But I know he doesn’t.”

Finally, the smugglers gave up on getting money out of the boy and let him go. Alone and afraid at the stadium, he had no idea what he’d do next. He had hoped to reach an aunt who is living in Saudi Arabia, but lost contact with her. He wanted one day to go back to school.

“It’s far from my dreams,” he added, in a dead voice.

After a few weeks, Yemeni security forces cleared out the stadium, throwing thousands back onto the streets. The IOM had stopped distributing food, fearing it would become a lure for migrants. Yemeni officials didn’t want to take responsibility for the migrants’ care.

Eissa, meanwhile, made his way across the country alone. At times, Yemenis gave him a ride for a stretch. Mostly he walked endless miles down the highways.

“I don’t count the days. I don’t distinguish, Saturday, Sunday, or Monday,” he said in audio message to the AP via Whatsapp.

One day, he reached the town of Bayhan, southern Yemen, and went to the local mosque to use the bathroom. When he saw the preacher giving his sermon, he realized it was Friday.

It was the first time in ages he was aware of the day of the week.

He had traveled more than 250 miles (420 kilometers) since he landed in Yemen. He had another 250 miles to go to the Saudi border.

“PRAY FOR ME”

In the evenings, thousands of migrants mill around the streets of Marib, one of the main city stopovers on the migrants’ route through Yemen. In the mornings, they search for day jobs. They could earn about a dollar a day working on nearby farms. A more prized job is with the city garbage collectors, paying $4 a day.

Ibrahim had just arrived a few days earlier when the AP met him, his black hair still covered in dust from the road.

Ibrahim had wandered in Yemen for days, starving, before villagers gave him food.

He made his way slowly north. Not knowing the language or the geography, he didn’t even know what town he was in when a group of armed fighters snatched him from the road.

They imprisoned him for days in a cell with other migrants. One night, they moved the migrants in a pickup, driving them through the desert. Ibrahim was confused and afraid: Where was he going? Who had abducted him? Why?

He threw himself out of the back of the pick-up, landing in the sand. Scratched and battered, he ran away into the darkness.

Now in Marib, he was stranded, unsure how to keep going. His arm was painfully swollen from an insect bite. He wouldn’t be able to work until it was better. The only food he could find was rice and fetid meat scraps left over from restaurants.

Using the AP’s phone, he called his mother for the first time since the horrific calls under torture at Las Anoud.

“Pray for me, mama,” he said, choking back tears.

“I know you are tired and in pain. Take care of yourself,” she told him.

Was it worth all this to reach Saudi Arabia, he was asked.

He broke down.

“What if I return empty-handed after my mother sold the one piece of land we have?” he said. “I can’t enter the village or show my face to my mother without money.”

THE KINGDOM

North of Marib, migrants cross into Houthi territory at Hazm, a run-down town divided down the middle between the rebels and anti-Houthi fighters. It’s a 3-mile (5-kilometer) no-man’s land where sniper fire and shelling are rampant.

Once across, it is another 120 miles (200 kilometers) north to the Saudi border.

Eissa walked that final stretch, a risk because the militiamen have a deal with migrant smugglers: Those who go by car are allowed through; those on foot are arrested.

“Walking in the mountains and the valleys and hiding from the police,” Eissa said in an audio message to the AP.

He traversed tiny valleys winding through mountains along the border to the crossing points of Al Thabit or Souq al-Raqo.

Souq al-Raqo is a lawless place, a center for drug and weapons trafficking run by Ethiopian smugglers. Even local security forces are afraid to go there. Cross-border shelling exchanges and airstrikes have killed dozens, including migrants; Saudi border guards sometimes shoot others.

Eissa slipped across the Saudi border on Aug. 10. It had been 39 days since he had left home in Ethiopia.

After walking another 100 miles, he reached the major town of Khamis Mushayit. First, he prayed at a mosque. Some Saudis there asked if he wanted work. They got him a job watering trees on a farm.

“Peace, mercy, and blessings of God,” he said in one of his last audio messages to the AP. “I am fine, thank God. I am in Saudi.”

To see the full photo essay on the migrants’ journey, click here.

To see a photo essay, “Portraits of Ethiopian girls, women on the march to Saudi,” click here.

Digital producers Nat Castañeda and Peter Hamlin contributed to this report.

Ethiopia says military chief killed, regional coup failed

June 23, 2019

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Ethiopia’s military chief was shot to death by his bodyguard amid a failed coup attempt against a regional government north of the capital, Addis Ababa, the prime minister said Sunday.

The abortive coup Saturday in the Amhara region was led by a high-ranking military officer and others in the armed forces, said Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who addressed the nation on state TV at 2 a.m. while wearing fatigues.

The soldiers attacked a building where a meeting of regional officials was taking place, said Nigussu Tilahun, a spokesman for the prime minister. The regional governor and an adviser were killed, while the attorney general was wounded, he said.

Not long after afterward, army chief Gen. Seare Mekonnen who assassinated at his home in Addis Ababa, and a retired army general visiting him was also killed, the spokesman said. “There is a link between the two attacks,” Nigussu said without elaborating.

The attack in Bahir Dar, the capital of Amhara, was led by a renegade brigadier who had recently been pardoned by the prime minister after being jailed by the previous government, authorities said. Most of the perpetrators were captured, and others were being hunted down, the spokesman said.

The brigadier remained at large, according to two officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Addis Ababa was peaceful on Sunday as soldiers stood guard in Meskel Square and set up roadblocks throughout the city. Ethiopia’s internet appeared to be shut down.

The attempted coup was the latest challenge to Abiy, who was elected last year. The 42-year-old Abiy has captured the imagination of many with his political and economic reforms, including the surprise acceptance of a peace agreement with Eritrea, the opening of major state-owned sectors to private investment and the release of thousands of prisoners, including opposition figures once sentenced to death.

Last June, a grenade meant for Abiy wounded many people at a big rally. Nine police officials were arrested, state media reported. In October, rebellious soldiers protested over pay and invaded Abiy’s office, but the prime minister was able to defuse the situation.

Ethiopia is a key regional ally of the U.S. in the restive Horn of Africa region. Tibor Nagy, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, said the latest violence was a “shock, but it could have turned out so much worse,” adding: “Thankfully Prime Minister Abiy escaped this attempt, because there are many, many more people in Ethiopia who support his reforms than those who are opposed to them.”

Speaking in South Africa, Nagy said “there are vestiges of the old regime” who are opposed to Abiy. “I wish I could say that this is will be the last of these attempts, but no one can be certain,” Nagy said.

In Addis Ababa, politicians and government officials went to the home of the slain army chief to offer condolences to his family.

AP journalist Andrew Meldrum in Pretoria, South Africa, contributed.

Ethiopia to send plane’s black box abroad, as grief grows

March 13, 2019

HEJERE, Ethiopia (AP) — The black box from the Boeing jet that crashed and killed all 157 people on board will be sent overseas for analysis but no country has been chosen, an Ethiopian Airlines spokesman said Wednesday, as much of the world grounded or barred the plane model and grieving families arrived at the disaster site.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Asrat Begashaw said the airline has “a range of options” for the data and voice records of the flight’s last moments. “What we can say is we don’t have the capability to probe it here in Ethiopia,” he said.

The Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff Sunday, killing all 157 people on board. The disaster is the second with a Max 8 plane in just five months. While some aviation experts have warned against drawing conclusions until more information on the latest crash emerges, much of the world, including the entire European Union, has grounded the Boeing jetliner or banned it from their airspace.

That leaves the United States as one of the few remaining operators of the plane. “Similar causes may have contributed to both events,” European regulators said, referring to the Lion Air crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people last year.

British regulators indicated possible trouble with a reportedly damaged flight data recorder, which could hamper the retrieval of information. Some aviation experts have warned that finding answers in this crash could take months.

Asrat, the Ethiopian Airlines spokesman, told the AP that the remains of victims recovered so far are in freezers but forensic DNA work for identifications had not yet begun. The dead came from 35 countries.

More devastated families arrived at the crash site on Wednesday, some supported by loved ones and wailing.

Ethiopian crash victims were aid workers, doctors, students

March 11, 2019

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Three Austrian physicians. The co-founder of an international aid organization. A career ambassador. The wife and children of a Slovak legislator. A Nigerian-born Canadian college professor, author and satirist. They were all among the 157 people from 35 countries who died Sunday morning when an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 jetliner crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa en route to Nairobi, Kenya. Here are some of their stories.

Kenya: 32 victims

— Hussein Swaleh, the former secretary general of the Football Kenya Federation, was named as being among the dead by Sofapaka Football Club.

He was due to return home on the flight after working as the match commissioner in an African Champions League game in Egypt on Friday.

— Cedric Asiavugwa, a law student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., was on his way to Nairobi after the death of his fiancee’s mother, the university said in a statement.

Asiavugwa, who was in his third year at the law school, was born and raised in Mombasa, Kenya. Before he came to Georgetown, he worked with groups helping refugees in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, the university said.

At Georgetown, Asiavugwa studied international business and economic law.

The university said Asiavugwa’s family and friends “remembered him as a kind, compassionate and gentle soul, known for his beautifully warm and infectious smile.”

Canada: 18 victims

—Pius Adesanmi, a Nigerian professor with Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, was on his way to a meeting of the African Union’s Economic, Social and Cultural Council in Nairobi, John O. Oba, Nigeria’s representative to the panel, told The Associated Press.

The author of “Naija No Dey Carry Last,” a collection of satirical essays, Adesanmi had degrees from Ilorin and Ibadan universities in Nigeria, and the University of British Columbia. He was director of Carleton’s Institute of African Studies, according to the university’s website. He was also a former assistant professor of comparative literature at Pennsylvania State University.

“Pius was a towering figure in African and post-colonial scholarship and his sudden loss is a tragedy,” said Benoit-Antoine Bacon, Carleton’s president and vice chancellor.

Adesanmi was the winner of the inaugural Penguin Prize for African non-fiction writing in 2010.

Mitchell Dick, a Carleton student who is finishing up a communications honors degree, said he took a first- and second-year African literature course with Adesanmi.

Adesanmi was “extremely nice and approachable,” and stood out for his passion for the subject matter, Dick said.

—Mohamed Hassan Ali confirmed that he had lost his sister and niece.

Ali said his sister, Amina Ibrahim Odowaa, and her five-year-old daughter, Safiya, were on board the jet that went down six minutes after it took off from the Addis Ababa airport on the way to Nairobi, Kenya.

“(She was) a very nice person, very outgoing, very friendly. Had a lot of friends,” he said of his sister, who lived in Edmonton and was travelling to Kenya to visit with relatives.

Amina Ibrahim Odowaa and her daughter Sofia Faisal Abdulkadir

The 33-year-old Edmonton woman and her five year-old daughter were travelling to Kenya to visit with relatives.

A family friend said Odowaa has lived in Edmonton since 2006.

— Derick Lwugi, an accountant with the City of Calgary, was also among the victims, his wife, Gladys Kivia, said. He leaves behind three children, aged 17, 19 and 20, Kivia said.

The couple had been in Calgary for 12 years, and Lwugi had been headed to Kenya to visit both of their parents.

Ethiopia: 9 victims

— The aid group Save the Children said an Ethiopian colleague died in the crash.

Tamirat Mulu Demessie had been a child protection in emergencies technical adviser and “worked tirelessly to ensure that vulnerable children are safe during humanitarian crises,” the group said in a statement.

China: 8 victims

—A statement from the Chinese Embassy in Addis Ababa said the Chinese victims included five men and three women, including one person from the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said two United Nations workers were among the eight Chinese killed. Four were working for a Chinese company and two had travelled to Ethiopia for “private matters.”

Italy: 8 victims

—Paolo Dieci, one of the founders of the International Committee for the Development of Peoples, was among the dead, the group said on its website.

“The world of international cooperation has lost one of its most brilliant advocates and Italian civil society has lost a precious point of reference,” wrote the group, which partners with UNICEF in northern Africa.

UNICEF Italia sent a tweet of condolences over Dieci’s death, noting that CISP, the group’s Italian acronym, was a partner in Kenya, Libya and Algeria.

—Sebastiano Tusa, the Sicilian regional assessor to the Italian Culture Ministry, was en route to Nairobi when the plane crashed, according to Sicilian regional President Nello Musemeci. In a statement reported by the ANSA news agency, Musemeci said he received confirmation from the foreign ministry, which confirmed the news to The Associated Press.

In a tweet, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said it was a day of pain for everyone. He said: “We are united with the relatives of the victims and offer them our heartfelt thoughts.”

Tusa was also a noted underwater archaeologist.

—The World Food Program confirmed that two of the Italian victims worked for the Rome-based U.N. agency.

A WFP spokeswoman identified the victims as Virginia Chimenti and Maria Pilar Buzzetti.

—Three other Italians worked for the Bergamo-based humanitarian agency, Africa Tremila: Carlo Spini, his wife, Gabriella Viggiani and the treasurer, Matteo Ravasio.

United States: 8 victims

France: 7 victims

—A group representing members of the African diaspora in Europe is mourning the loss of its co-chairperson and “foremost brother,” Karim Saafi.

A French Tunisian, Saafi, 38, was on an official mission representing the African Diaspora Youth Forum in Europe, the group announced on its Facebook page.

“Karim’s smile, his charming and generous personality, eternal positivity, and his noble contribution to Youth employment, diaspora engagement and Africa’s socio-economic development will never be forgotten,” the post read. “Brother Karim, we’ll keep you in our prayers.”

Saafi left behind a fiancee.

— Sarah Auffret, a French-British national living in Tromsoe, northern Norway, was on the plane, the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators said. Auffret, a staffer, was on the way to Nairobi to talk about a Cleans Seas project in connection with the U.N. Environment Assembly this week, the company said in a statement.

U.K.: 7 victims

— Joanna Toole, a 36-year-old from Exmouth, Devon, was heading to Nairobi to attend the United Nations Environment Assembly when she was killed.

Father Adrian described her as a “very soft and loving” woman whose “work was not a job — it was her vocation”.

“Everybody was very proud of her and the work she did. We’re still in a state of shock. Joanna was genuinely one of those people who you never heard a bad word about,” he told the DevonLive website.

He also said she used to keep homing pigeons and pet rats and travelled to the remote Faroe Islands to prevent whaling.

Manuel Barange, the director of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations fisheries and aquaculture department, tweeted saying he was “profoundly sad and lost for words” over the death of the “wonderful human being”.

— Joseph Waithaka, a 55-year-old who lived in Hull for a decade before moving back to his native Kenya, also died in the crash, his son told the Hull Daily Mail.

Ben Kuria, who lives in London, said his father had worked for the Probation Service, adding: “He helped so many people in Hull who had found themselves on the wrong side of the law.”

Waithaka had dual Kenyan and British citizenship, the BBC reported.

Egypt: 6 victims

Germany: 5 victims

—The United Nations migration agency said that one of its staffers, German citizen Anne-Katrin Feigl, was on the plane en route to a training course in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya and the plane’s destination.

India: 4 victims

Slovakia: 4 victims

—A lawmaker of Slovak Parliament said his wife, daughter and son were killed in the crash. Anton Hrnko, a legislator for the ultra-nationalist Slovak National Party, said he was “in deep grief” over the deaths of his wife, Blanka, son, Martin, and daughter, Michala. Their ages were not immediately available.

Martin Hrnko was working for the Bubo travel agency. The agency said he was traveling for his vacation in Kenya.

President Andrej Kiska offered his condolences to Hrnko.

Sweden: 4 victims

— Hospitality company Tamarind Group announced “with immense shock and grief” that its chief executive Jonathan Seex was among the fatalities.

— The Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders, an international human rights group, said employee Josefin Ekermann, 30, was on board the plane. Ekermann, who worked to support human rights defenders, was on her way to meet Kenyan partner organizations. The group’s executive director, Anders L. Pettersson, says “Josefin was a highly appreciated and respected colleague.”

Austria: 3 victims

—Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Peter Guschelbauer confirmed that three Austrian doctors in their early 30s were on board the flight. The men were on their way to Zanzibar, he said, but he could not confirm the purpose of their trip.

Russia: 3 victims

—The Russian Embassy in Ethiopia said that airline authorities had identified its deceased nationals as Yekaterina Polyakova, Alexander Polyakov and Sergei Vyalikov.

News reports identify the first two as husband and wife. State news agency RIA-Novosibirsk cites a consular official in Nairobi as saying all three were tourists.

Israel: 2 victims

Morocco: 2 victims

Poland: 2 victims

Spain: 2 victims

Belgium: 1 victim

Djibouti: 1 victim

Indonesia: 1 victim

Ireland: 1 victim

— Irishman Michael Ryan was among the seven dead from the United Nations’ World Food Program, a humanitarian organization distributing billions of rations every year to those in need.

The Rome-based aid worker and engineer known as Mick was formerly from Lahinch in County Clare in Ireland’s west and was believed to be married with two children.

His projects have included creating safe ground for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and assessing the damage to rural roads in Nepal that were blocked by landslides.

His mother, Christine Ryan, told broadcaster RTE that “he had a marvelous vision and he just got there and did it and had great enthusiasm…He never wanted a nine to five job. He put everything into his work.”

Irish premier Leo Varadkar said: “Michael was doing life-changing work in Africa with the World Food Programme.”

Mozambique: 1 victim

Nepal: 1 victim

Nigeria: 1 victim

—The Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it received the news of retired Ambassador Abiodun Oluremi Bashu’s death “with great shock and prayed that the Almighty God grant his family and the nation, the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.”

Bashu was born in Ibadan in 1951 and joined the Nigerian Foreign Service in 1976. He had served in different capacities both at Headquarters and Foreign Missions such as Vienna, Austria, Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire and Tehran, Iran. He also served as secretary to the Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

At the time of his death, Bashu was on contract with the United Nations Economic Commission of Africa.

Norway: 1 victim

—The Red Cross of Norway confirmed that Karoline Aadland, a finance officer, was among those on the flight.

Aadland, 28, was originally from Bergen, Norway. The Red Cross said she was traveling to Nairobi for a meeting.

Aadland’s Linkedin page says she had done humanitarian and environmental work. The page says her work and studies had taken her to France, Kenya, South Africa and Malawi.

“People who know me describe me as a resourceful, dedicated and kindhearted person,” she wrote on Linkedin.

The Red Cross says in a news release that it “offers support to the closest family, and to employees who want it,” the organization said in a news release.

Rwanda: 1 victim

Saudi Arabia: 1 victim

Serbia: 1 victim

Serbia’s foreign ministry confirmed that one of its nationals was aboard the plane. The ministry gave no further details, but local media identified the man as 54-year-old Djordje Vdovic.

The Vecernje Novosti daily reported that he worked at the World Food Program.

Somalia: 1 victim

Sudan: 1 victim

Togo: 1 victim

Uganda: 1 victim

Yemen: 1 victim

U.N. passport: 1 victim

Italy’s PM visits Ethiopia and soon Eritrea to support peace

October 11, 2018

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Italy’s prime minister is visiting Ethiopia and is awaited in Eritrea after the neighbors and once-bitter rivals made surprising peace earlier this year. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte says this is the first visit by a Western leader since the peace accord that ended years of deadly border tensions.

Conte is expected to discuss migration, a sensitive topic in Italy, as well as investment opportunities in Ethiopia, one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies. He was met at the airport by Ethiopia’s reformist new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and is expected to meet with members of the Italian community.

Eritrea’s information minister says Conte on Friday will discuss bilateral cooperation and “international matters of mutual interest” with longtime President Isaias Afwerki during his visit. Eritrea is a major source of migrants.

Ethiopia faces reforms’ next steps as ruling coalition meets

October 03, 2018

MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) — Declaring “a true measure of leadership is not indispensability,” Ethiopia’s prime minister on Wednesday urged the next steps in the country’s sweeping reforms as the ruling coalition that has led for decades opened its first congress since he took power in April.

A true leader produces qualified successors and makes “herself/himself redundant,” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told the gathering, according to Twitter posts by his chief of staff, Fitsum Arega. The 42-year-old prime minister has pledged free and fair elections in Africa’s second most populous nation in 2020 and dramatically widened the political space by welcoming once-banned opposition groups home from exile. Ethiopia since 1991 has been led by the coalition and allied parties that hold every seat in Parliament.

The political and economic reforms, which have made surprising peace with longtime rival Eritrea and would open state-run enterprises to investment, have been welcomed with enthusiasm by many, but already Abiy has been the target of an assassination attempt. Last week Ethiopia’s attorney general filed terrorism charges against five people and accused them of wanting to pave the way for the once-banned Oromo Liberation Front.

Some have expressed concern that enthusiasm over the returning groups has played a role in the resurgence of deadly ethnic tensions that pose a major challenge to reforms. In the latest unrest, the Oromia region reported more than 70,000 people displaced by fresh violence in late September. The number of Ethiopia’s internally displaced people has reached 2.8 million, up from 1.6 million at the beginning of the year, the United Nations recently reported.

Ethiopians have long expressed grievances over the country’s federal structure that is largely based on ethnic lines and has been held together by the ruling coalition and its security forces. The nation of 100 million people has more than 80 ethnic groups.

On Wednesday, Abiy told the congress that “a federal form of government is a preferred option in Ethiopia as long as we don’t confuse regional arrangements with ethnic identity,” according to his chief of staff. “Each regional administrative unit should serve all citizens with respect and without discrimination.”

The ruling coalition is undergoing a significant transformation, Awol Kassim Allo, a lecturer in law at Keele University in Britain, said in a Facebook post. This week it is expected to change its name and core leadership and elect a leader.

It is inconceivable that the coalition will unseat Abiy, who brought the country back from the brink after months of widespread anti-government protests demanding more freedoms, Awol said. “He is the only figure within and outside the ruling coalition with the political capital and cultural appeal to steer Ethiopia through this difficult and complex period of transition.”

Anna reported from Johannesburg.

Ethiopians protest in capital against weekend violence

September 17, 2018

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Several thousand Ethiopians demonstrated in the streets of the capital on Monday morning to protest ethnic-based attacks in the outskirts of the city in which more than 20 people died over the weekend.

Commissioner of the federal police Zeynu Jemal said that five people were killed in the Monday protests and between 20 and 25 people were killed in the weekend attack. He said that 700 suspects are in custody.

Victims of the attack and their families alleged the perpetrators are some groups of youths from the surrounding Oromia region. Police fired tear gas to try to disperse the demonstrators, but people continued to flock to central Meskel Square. The demonstrators are calling on the government to take firm measures against the perpetrators.

“We demand justice,” some of the rally goers chanted when they passed by the offices of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, on the way to Meskel Square. “The government’s task is to protect its citizens, not to send condolences after they are butchered,” shouted a protester.

There were also protests in Arba Mich, the capital city of Ethiopia’s Southern region and the home area of many victims of Saturday’s attacks, in which demonstrators kneeled to urge justice. For the first time since taking office in April, Ethiopia’s reformist leader Abiy has come under sharp criticism for what some see as his soft stance and people are calling on him on social media to toughen up and restore law and order. Some Ethiopians are also openly calling for a state of emergency to be put in place to avoid further killings.

For his part Abiy denounced the killings. “Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed strongly condemns the killings and acts of violence against innocent citizens … These cowardly attacks represent a grave concern to the unity and solidarity of our people & will be met with appropriate response,” said Fitsum Arega, the prime minister’s chief of staff, in a tweet on Sunday.

Ethnic-based attacks over land and resources are not new in this East African nation of more than 80 ethnic groups. But the severity of such attacks has grown in recent months. The U.N. Children’s Fund UNICEF said in August that as many as 2.8 million Ethiopians were internally displaced, mainly due to ethnic-based attacks in various parts of the country.

Hundreds of thousands in Ethiopia welcome once-banned group

September 15, 2018

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians gathered on Saturday to welcome returning leaders of the once-banned Oromo Liberation Front amid sweeping reforms to bring opposition groups back to politics.

The OLF and two other organizations were removed from a list of terror groups earlier this year after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office. He invited them to come home as he vowed to widen the political space in a country where the ruling coalition, in power since 1991, and affiliated parties hold every seat in parliament.

Earlier Saturday, some 1,500 OLF fighters returned to Ethiopia from neighboring Eritrea. The group since the 1970s has advocated the “right to national self-determination” for the Oromo people, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.

A large concert was being held in Meskel Square in the capital, Addis Ababa, to welcome OLF leader Dawud Ibsa and others arriving from Eritrea’s capital. Events also were held in Oromia, the largest region among Ethiopia’s federal states.

“I’m happy to be here after 26 years of struggle from outside of Ethiopia,” the OLF leader told reporters upon his arrival. “We have been struggling to bring the changes that we are seeing now in Ethiopia. We are now seeing positive signs that include the respect for rule of law. That’s why we came here.”

Abiy, the first Oromo politician to become prime minister since the ruling party came to power in 1991, took office after more than two years of deadly anti-government protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions spread throughout the country and led to a state of emergency. Tensions in restive areas have dramatically declined as the new government released several thousand prisoners, unblocked websites and welcomed opposition voices.

“This is a day that we have been longing for,” Milkessa Hunde, a university lecturer, told The Associated Press. “This is why thousands of Qeeros (youths in Oromia) sacrificed their lives. We are eternally indebted to them.”

After clashes in recent days between youth from Oromia and the capital over displays of the OLF flag in Addis Ababa, the prime minister condemned any incitement of violence. He added, however, that “the right of freedom of expression includes the use of a flag of choice.”

Police used tear gas to separate the two sides as some businesses closed.

Ethiopian, Eritrean leaders at concert for diplomatic thaw

July 15, 2018

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — At least 25,000 Ethiopians are at a concert where new, reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea’s President Isaias Afweki are expected to celebrate the new friendship between their neighboring countries.

The concert on Sunday highlights the end of years of hostility between the two arch-foes in East Africa, who fought a bloody border war from 1998 to 2000. The antagonism ended last month when Ethiopia accepted a peace deal originally signed in 2000.

Eritrea’s longtime leader arrived in Ethiopia on Saturday, his first visit in 22 years. Isaias is reciprocating the Ethiopian leader’s trip to Eritrea last Sunday. Isaias was greeted by Ethiopia’s Abiy in a red carpet welcome. People danced at the airport when Isaias arrived and Addis Ababa residents lined main streets to see Isaias’ motorcade.

Near the airport, some residents chanted songs criticizing the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front, which used to be Ethiopian ruling coalition’s strongest political party until Abiy came to power at the beginning of April.

The thaw with Eritrea began when the 42-year-old Abiy announced in June that Ethiopia would fully accept the 2000 peace deal that ended the two-year border war which killed tens of thousands and separated families. The decision, which hands some key disputed border areas to Eritrea, was Abiy’s boldest move yet in a wave of reforms in which he aims to end anti-government protests in Africa’s second most populous country, which has 100 million people.

The of the state of war between the two countries has been praised by the United States and the United Nations. The U.N. Security Council called it a “historic and significant development with far-reaching positive consequences for the Horn of Africa and beyond.”

The Eritrean leader is expected to re-open his country’s embassy in Addis on Monday. On Saturday Isaias visited an Ethiopian industrial park in southern Ethiopia. Tiny Eritrea, with a population of about 5 million, is located on one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and across the Red Sea from the Arabian Peninsula. It has been ruled by Isaias since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, after years of rebel warfare. In recent years, many Eritreans have fled to Europe, Israel and African nations to avoid military conscription and what human rights groups say is harsh rule.

Roads, trains to link Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia

January 31, 2018

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have agreed to establish railways and roads to connect them to each other, Khartoum’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said yesterday.

The presidents of the three countries met on the sidelines of the 28th ordinary AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, yesterday where they “agreed to establish railways and roads connecting the three countries,” Ghandour said in a press statement.

They also agreed to establish a joint financial fund to support these projects, he added.

Remarking on the talks regarding Ethiopia’s dam, Ghandour said a joint political, security and technical committee which includes the ministers of foreign affairs and irrigation, as well as directors of the security and intelligence services from the three countries will be formed in order to provide technical studies for the heads of the three countries related to filling the dam’s lake and how it will operate in a way that does not affect Egypt and Sudan’s share of Nile water.

The Sudanese minister said that Khartoum and Cairo have also agreed to form a committee of foreign ministers and security and intelligence chiefs who will meet in Cairo during the next two weeks to discuss all outstanding issues.

“The presidents of the two countries stressed that the relationship between Egypt and Sudan is eternal and must be maintained,” he said.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180131-roads-trains-to-link-sudan-egypt-ethiopia/.

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