Family of Killed Ethiopian Lost for answers

Michael Atakelt's grieving girlfriend Elsa Giday and father Betachen Atakelt Seyoum.

The unexplained death of a young Ethiopian man has reignited claims African youths face police harassment and a battle to belong.

A BEAUTIFUL young woman walks up and solemnly greets a middle-aged man standing outside the African Town restaurant in Footscray.

It’s a bitterly cold day but the pair stand still, not wanting to speak. They are only beginning to register the recent event that changed their lives. Elsa Giday, 18, and Betachen Atakelt Seyoum have each lost Michael, Elsa’s boyfriend of three years and Seyoum’s eldest son.

Michael Atakelt's grieving girlfriend Elsa Giday and father Betachen Atakelt Seyoum.
Michael Atakelt's grieving girlfriend Elsa Giday and father Betachen Atakelt Seyoum. Photo: Craig Sillitoe

 

The unexplained death of a young Ethiopian man has reignited claims African youths face police harassment and a battle to belong.

 

Michael Atakelt, 22, was found dead in the Maribyrnong River on July 7. The cause of death is not yet known and the coroner’s report is not expected to be released for 12 weeks. Victoria Police has yet to announce whether Michael’s death is being treated as a homicide.

The young Ethiopian had only lived in Australia for five years and was yet to become a citizen. But he lived here long enough to make an army of friends.

Betachen Atakelt Seyoum with a picture of his son Michael.
Betachen Atakelt Seyoum with a picture of his son Michael.

Seyoum and Elsa received a warm welcome when they finally entered the popular Ethiopian restaurant. Empathy for the grieving father and the young man’s girlfriend was palpable. Seyoum’s mobile rang non-stop as members of the community called to express sorrow at his loss.

Seyoum has to rely on Michael’s friends to help determine his son’s last movements. As his mother Askalu Tella was told – when she had to repeatedly file missing-person reports on July 4, 5 and 6 at the Footscray police station – young men who live independently are adults and parents shouldn’t worry when they disappear for a few days.

Except that Michael had been missing since June 26. He had been released at 8am from police custody at the Melbourne Custody Centre on the day he vanished. Elsa was the last to see him later in the day. Eleven days later, a fisherman spotted his body in the river and rang police.

When Dr Berhan Ahmed, a senior research fellow at Melbourne University, called a meeting last weekend of the African Think Tank, the advocacy and support group he founded for African Australians, the community turned out in force to mark Michael’s death and to discuss the many theories surrounding it. Many openly grieved for a young man known for his bright smile.

More than 250 people, representing local families and community groups, spoke for more than three hours about Michael. They talked about their belief that he was being harassed by some Victoria Police officers before he died, and of their frustration that their children or friends felt targeted while at the same time struggling to stay at school and get jobs.

Read more: www.theage.com.au

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