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2020 top stories: Ethiopians in Lebanon: between revolution and slavery

Dec 29, 2020
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Two minutes with Abiy

Meseret Mandefero, a community representative and a member of the Egna Legna Besidet organization made the trip from Beirut to Abu Dhabi. Determined to get a message across to the Prime Minister, she wasn’t deterred by the three hour bus trip from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, nor the fact that the odds of her being picked out of the packed auditorium full of people with raised hands, were slim. Her patience and perseverance paid off and she was handed the mic and given two minutes to speak.

Meseret made the most of it and explained the dire situation of the Ethiopian community in Lebanon struggling to adapt amid a severe economic crisis and an ongoing revolution. She addressed the consulate’s inability to make a difference and pleaded with the Prime Minister for, among other things, assistance in facilitating the return of Ethiopians from Lebanon. She spoke of the necessity of a crackdown on human traffickers in Ethiopia who continue to trick young women into paying large sums of money to make the trip to Lebanon. Part of her statement was broadcast for millions to see by the state run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC).

The Prime Minister appeared stunned by when told of the total number of Ethiopians in Lebanon. “There is a lot of potential if that community’s talents and abilities can be harnessed,” Prime Minister Abiy responded. He made a half-hearted pledge to inquire into what she told him. Weeks later, there remains no indication that he has even remembered their brief exchange.

Tirunesh Gelaneh has accumulated the USD 550 required to register for repatriation. “It took all of my remaining money. I will now return to my family empty handed, but I had no choice. Others are starving or being forced to sell their bodies.”

She says she didn’t share the same enthusiasm as others when she heard the Prime Minister would be holding discussions with Ethiopians in the Middle East. “We have no one but our creator to look after us,” Tirunesh sounded exasperated.

“May God grant him health, I don’t wish him harm. But I’m realistic, we’re on our own out here.”

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