Ahmed has been imprisoned in three detention centers in Florida since September of 2014**Escape from Ethiopia**
My name is Ahmed*, an Ethiopian citizen currently detained at Baker County Jail in Florida. I have been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since September 10th, 2014.
In Ethiopia, I used to work for the human rights commission on cases of women and children’s rights in particular and any case of human rights violations in general. Also, I used to train the society about the law and their rights by holding trainings throughout the state districts.
It was at this time when I faced the reality of the regional special police brutality and their violations of the rights of the state’s population. In one incident I was sent to investigate and inspect the condition of individuals imprisoned by the regional police in some districts’ prisons where I have seen people detained between one month to two years without charged, court hearings, family visits and in physically bad condition. After I tried to talk about this with the district administration they directly contacted with the regional president who has special police of his own and said to him that I am doing work against him and his government and the special police.
After I returned to Adama (my home town), the regional president threatened me that I would be killed if I don’t resign silently from my position in Ethiopian human rights commission. A week after that incident several armed special police members broke into my house, they beat me with their gun butts, and told me to resign fast. After I resigned, the special police again broke into my house in the middle of the night and destroyed my documents and my laptop and arrested me in a police camp near Adama and held me for almost three months without charges and family contact. Lastly, they release me after I told them that I will never again talk about human rights violations in the region.
After two months without a job, I again found a job in Oromia regional state education bureau, where I had been working for the last year before I left my country. The regional education bureau is a governmental bureau and obtains donations through international and United Nations organizations like UNWFP and UNICEF, etc. I was working as a supervising team leader and a Save the Children focal person for the education bureau.
In April of 2014, I was on a field trip out of Adama to some districts in the regional state to distribute Save the Children donated shelves to schools through a capacity building program. At 3 p.m. on April 16, as I was traveling to drop those shelves off in Aleltu district schools northeast of Adama, my driver with a government car and I were stopped by OLF (Oromia Liberation Front) members, who are rebels who have been fighting with the Ethiopian government for the last 20 years to secede the Oromia state from the other parts of Ethiopia. They took us to a jungle by the roadside and they threatened us that they were going to kill us by pointing their guns at us. We were screaming and begging them not to do so and they started to ask us questions about whom we worked for and why we didn’t join them. Lastly, they asked me for money and to promise to them that we will be part of their freedom fight by donating money each month (which we promised to do to save our lives).
The week after we returned to Adama, the driver talked about what had happened to us with his friends. Unfortunately, the information spread and I heard that special police broke into his home and arrested him by suspecting him of being an OLF supporter, especially because OLF released us and they usually kill most of the people they abduct.
After I heard the driver was arrested, I decided to get out of the country because I knew that the special police would not leave me alone either. The next night, they broke into my home but I wasn’t there. I started my journey out of Ethiopia.
A Long Journey
After I escaped Ethiopia, I went to Kenya to travel to any country that I could, because Ethiopia’s secret service could easily kidnap me from Kenya to take me back and persecute me.
While I was in Kenya I was hiding in a room until a friend of mine found a smuggler who helped me to travel out of Kenya. At this time I had not decided where to go, but I was thinking about asking for asylum out of one of the European embassies in Nairobi. After I met the smuggler he convinced me that I will not be accepted by any embassy and that it was better for me to travel to the USA through Latin and Central America.
I started my journey from Nairobi, Kenya through the following countries: I first went to Togo then to Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. I entered the USA on September 10, 2014, through the Hidalgo border bridge between Mexico and Texas. I was immediately taken into detention.
I had no idea that I could be detained and abused in American detention.
An immigration judge denied my asylum case for a very simple reason on April 8, 2015. ICE could not deport me to Ethiopia, but they denied to release me. I did not appeal the judge’s order because I had no idea that I could be detained and abused in American detention for this much time after I was granted the so-called “credible fear.”
I believe if I am deported to Ethiopia that I will be persecuted and killed by the Oromia state government and the special police who take the direct personal orders of the Oromia state president. He is behind the death and displacement of many Ethiopians by using the special police, according to many reports of international human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
I tried many times to consider going back to Ethiopia. I talked to my family and discussed with them how the conditions are there and what has changed since I left. My mother, who is missing me the most, told me not to come back because the special police has searched our home and asked her several times about where I had gone.
The current Ethiopian situation made the already bad humanitarian conditions worse and difficult even for private innocent citizens living in cities across the country. The government has cracked down on and has killed innocent civilians who have been protesting against the government’s discrimination, extra-judicial killings, and backward policies.
Recently, the Ethiopian government imposed martial law and declared a 6-month state of emergency to legalize the extra-judicial killings of innocent civilians.
I personally spent my whole life attaining a college degree so that I could help my mother, who spent all she had to help me graduate from a college so that I could help her and my younger sisters and brother. By coming to the USA my goal was to save myself first, and then help my family. Unfortunately, I ended up in an unprecedented prison.
A Failed Deportation
Last March, ICE deported me to Ethiopia by a special flight with 7 other people. We departed from the Opa Locka airport in Florida. At the airport there were heavily-armed military style ICE police with machine guns. When we entered the airport and I saw the military style police who were standing all around the small private airport and the mattress they put on the tarmac between the cars we were in and the plane, I really laughed with surprise. What was in my heart and at least the way I was treated did not match my surprised laugh.
When we arrived at Addis Ababa airport after a 16-hour flight with shackles and handcuffs tying my hands to my waist, we headed to the exit gateways. On our way, one Ethiopian immigration officer stopped us, because he was suspicious of our appearance — all matching uniforms and shoes. He took us to the immigration supervisor’s office, where we were interviewed. ICE senior officials from Washington, D.C., were with us and they were ordered not to leave the airport until we were finished being screened.
One of our guys claimed he was not Ethiopian — he always claimed he was from Somalia. The next guy said, “I am from Somalia, too.” I was totally feeling different than these guys at the time, and to be honest, I had no hope of living any more in the USA.
I was next to be interviewed. I gave my name and address in Ethiopia, as well as my brother’s telephone number. The officer called my brother but they could not understand each other. My brother speaks an Oromo language, and the officer spoke an Amharic language. The officer began to ask me about Adama, my home town, and I told him everything. At once he screamed at me, “Give me the right address, you are not Ethiopian!” I was shocked at the way he acted and the way he changed at once. Inside my heart I was feeling happiness, because I knew if they denied to accept me that I should be released to live in the USA. Unfortunately, that did not happen so far and I am still fighting for it. Now, I have to keep the record clean; the Ethiopian officer didn’t want to believe that I am Ethiopian and that I didn’t deny my Ethiopian citizenship like the other guys.
The ICE officers were detained with us in the airport, so they were very angry, calling the U.S. embassy in Ethiopia and doing whatever they could to get their freedom.
The next day, the ICE officers were exhausted from a sleepless night and they decided to bring us back to the USA. But the Ethiopian authorities denied them and told them to wait until our screening was finished and a decision to come from the Ethiopian immigration headquarters. We were in the middle of a game between Ethiopia and the USA for two days in the airport. Late on March 8, 2016, the ICE officers were allowed to bring some of us back to the USA.
On March 10, four of us returned to Florida, and the other four were accepted and left in Ethiopia. Since then I have been fighting for my release, and ICE is accusing me of denying my Ethiopian citizenship. I am trying to convince them that my case was different than the other guys who openly claimed that they were Somalians.
- Ahmed’s name has been changed to protect his identity.
UPDATE: Ahmed was released from detention in and is now living with a sponsor in Minnesota!