Podcast: Episode 3 ~ Boat Person 16

Sara talks to an asylum seeker from Ethiopia, who shares her experience escaping her country and the long and arduous journey to Australia, only to be trapped by an awful border protection policy in detention facilities both off-shore in Nauru and in Australia. There are thousands of people seeking asylum in Australia, unable to work and are forced to live in destitution, and where there are no limitations in the law to the length of time a person can be detained. Despite the fact that every person has a right to seek asylum, Australia is violating their international obligation by punishing rather than protecting.

Ethiopia is sub-Saharan country in Africa surrounded by Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti. Once called Abyssinia, King Menelik I is traditionally believed to have been the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, and its ports along the Red Sea became an important trade route with Arabia and the Roman empire, the Byzantines bringing Coptic Christianity into the region that eventually became the state religion.

With a history of Italian invasion starting from 1895, during WW2 fascist Italy once again invaded Ethiopia and captured the capital Addis Ababa. The crown prince and regent of the Ethiopian empire at the time, Haile Selassie, fled until 1941 when British troops overwhelmed the Italians, and where he once again was restored as leader.

In 1973, famine hit the country and almost 200,000 people died that by September 1974, Selassie was deposed under a socialist dictatorship, leading to the ‘red terror’ phase where thousands of political opponents were murdered, and along with other crimes against humanity, they also committed genocide. Famine once again hit between 1984-1985 where the death toll reached 1.2million and resulted in almost 400,000 refugees and 200,000 orphans.

In 1991, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front toppled the dictatorship and in 1994 a new constitution was written that divided the country into ethnic groups, which only lead to continuous ethnic clashes across the country and with neighbouring Eritrea and Somalia. Hundreds of people were killed in clashes and tens of thousands forced to flee. Human Rights Watch reported that the army had intentionally raped, murdered and tortured people.

Tensions with Somalia started to heighten in 2006 and constant ethnic clashes have led to countless loss of life. Bombings and grenade attacks in universities and other public institutions and buildings regularly occur, angry mobs violently loot and kill, and there is poor governance, rampant corruption and generally a complete disregard for the law that continue to put so many lives at risk. More than 2 million people are internally displaced and there is no freedom of association or expression, women at risk of being raped, and where impunity, torture and arbitrary detention is a real and continuous reality in Ethiopia.

Something my next guest has experienced firsthand, escaping the country after realising that her life is at risk when bombs killed students at the university she was attending, watching her father be arbitrarily detained and tortured as a political prisoner, and her friends unable to get work or take care of themselves. The lawlessness only made her future seem hopeless.

If she stayed, she would have likely died or live in constant fear and danger with no hope for the future. She needed to find another life somewhere safe, so she fled to neighbouring Kenya with all the money she had. There, she arranged for a flight to Indonesia, and finally, with what she had left, was persuaded that she could find a life in Australia. She suffered and endured so much to get here, only to find herself in a far more horrifying place.

Treated as nothing more than a number, she was psychologically and emotionally tortured and the cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment that punished asylum seekers at the off-shore detention on Nauru flouted their special protections under international human rights law. For years, she was arbitrarily detained, moved around from place to place, called out as a number rather than a person, and when she reached a point where she could no longer cope, she witnessed one of her friends burn herself alive. What a horrible and embarrassing and shameful border control policy.

It is not easy for her to tell her story, with her limited English and no doubt the psychological challenges retracing her steps, but she managed to show how much of an incredible, courageous and strong person she is to have survived. One of the main reasons was the joy she felt hearing Australian protestors supporting and helping her when she was released, that real voice of Australia who were there to give her hope and to help her when she needed it the most.

This is her story and I hope it is yours too.

Note that the Moral Traveller is committed to protecting the identity of her guests to ensure they remain anonymous.