Son of a Tigrean father and an Oromo mother, Girum T. Haimanot, 38, was a reporter and an editor-in-chief of an independent newspaper in Ethiopia before having to flee his country. His wife died in Ethiopia whilst he has been in exile in Yemen. Of 96 journalists who fled Ethiopia since 2005, he is the last one waiting to be resettled.
Tell me about your life back in Ethiopia?
I spent 12 years in journalism working as a reporter and then editor-in-chief for an independent newspaper in Ethiopia. I have worked as a reporter for Asqual newspaper and as an editor- in-chief for Satenaw newspaper, both were independent and both are closed now.
When did you start to be threatened?
In 2000, I published a story about the ruling party at that time, saying that it was splintering. That was the first time I ended up in front of the court. I was detained for 3 days and had to pay a fine of about 20,000 birr [1,500 USD]. I continued reporting and the second problem occurred in 2001 when I published a story about a university demonstration.
When did you leave Ethiopia and why?
There was an attempt to kidnap me from the street only two days before my court appearance. People who were around prevented it from happening. Then I was told by one of the security personnel there that if I tried to attend the court hearing I would be detained again. The harassment continued from 2000 until 2005 when I decided to leave Ethiopia for Yemen.
Tell me about the journey from Somali to Yemen?
We were on board three boats that sailed from Somali. One of these boats sank on the way. One of the boats was towing another that had stopped in the middle of the sea with about 80 passengers on board. When it started to sink the crew cut the rope and left it behind. Even the passengers on the remaining two boats would not have made it to shore without the help of the Yemeni coast guard. The boats were about one hour from shore when the Yemeni coast guard arrived. Some passengers wanted to jump overboard to swim to the shore, but they stopped at gun point. Then we were taken to shore.
Why did you choose to study journalism?
Since I was a child I wanted to be a journalist. I liked writing and reading. Now, I am writing a book about a refugee’s journey crossing the Gulf of Aden.
What do think about the international media coverage of Ethiopia?
The international media tries to report the reality in Ethiopia, but the reporters for foreign media working there don’t have the freedom to report about everything. It they report a not-so-pleasant story, they can be deported from the country. At the moment, for example, the Voice of America broadcasts in Amharic have been suspended by the government. The German Deutsche Welle [international broadcaster] has experienced some interference too. The government has paid about four million Ethiopian birr (about 300,000 USD) to stop the independent Ethiopian channel ESAT.
How long do you think you will need to live outside your country to protect yourself?
Only God knows. I hope the UNHCR will stop dealing with me like the Ethiopian government and forget about the past. The government accused all 96 journalists who left Ethiopia after 2005 of betraying their country. Most have been resettled. There are three still in Yemen, the other two will soon leave Yemen to be resettled in a third country and only I will remain.
What is the hardest part of being in exile?
The hardest part was staying in detention for seven and a half months, I don’t count that as part of my life. I was detained in Ataq [in Shabwa] immediately after I arrived in Yemen and then sent to passport authority detention in Sana’a. At that time the Ethiopian embassy sent for me asking for my identification documents as a condition for helping me be released. When I refused, they asked the prosecutor to send me to Ethiopia. But he left the decision up to the UNHCR to decide whether I stayed in Yemen or was returned to Ethiopia. I sent more than 50 letters to the UNHCR from detention and after seven months I was given refugee status and released. Once I criticized the UNHCR for listing some people as Oromo instead of listing them as Ethiopian and I think they are still angry at me.
In what way do you continue working from your exile here in Yemen?
I work as shopkeeper. My UN refugee card was seized from me along with my wallet by a gunman in Shumaila, in Sana’a, and I faced a hard time from the UNHCR to replace it. I was asked to go to the Kharaz camp, and there I found out that only Somalis and Oromo can live there. I am from the Tegray tribe in Ethiopia. People from other ethnicities find it impossible to live there. Here in Sana’a I have a few friends. I think the UNHCR in Sana’a is like the government in Ethiopia, because they always blame me because I returned from the Kharaz camp. I don’t know about my resettlement status. I sent emails and letters and there is no reply, and I cannot enter the building.
After publishing two issues of a newspaper in Amharic and talking about the situation of the Ethiopian community in Yemen, I received a threat to stop.
My new wife is supporting me in writing my book, and I am lucky she understands my work. She is writing a novel too.
Connect with Girum T.Haimanoton Facebook
Source: Yemen Times