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Ethiopian Asylum Applicant's Journey

  • Clara Frenk

Kebebe and his wife escaped from Ethiopia and embarked on an odyssey that took them to a Kenyan refugee camp to Mexico City, where a smuggler, also known as a Coyote, brought the couple to Washington, D.C.

Every year, thousands of people fleeing persecution file for asylum in the United States.

The United States customs and immigration service separates asylum cases into two categories - affirmative and defensive.

To obtain affirmative asylum, the applicant must be physically present in the United States, but it makes no difference how the applicant arrived in the United States or the nature of his or her current immigration status.

An applicant for defensive asylum is seeking to avoid deportation from the U.S. These cases are decided by an immigration judge.

"To be granted asylum in the United States you have to show that you have either been persecuted in the past or you have a well-founded fear of future persecution,” says Dree Collopy, a U.S. immigration attorney. “If you have suffered past persecution, there's automatically an assumption that you fear future persecution. However if you haven't suffered past persecution, you have to show that there's a reasonable possibility that you will suffer future persecution if you are sent back there."

"Kebebe" is from Ethiopia and a member of the Oromo tribe. He has been waiting eight years for his case to be decided. We have concealed his identity to protect him and his family. In 2001, “Kebebe” was accused by the Ethiopian government of being a member of the Oromo Liberation Front - a charge he denies. Troops arrived at his door to arrest him.

"They just keep yelling, shouting at me, 'you are a separatist,you are a traitor,' they just kept saying a lot of stuff and then I said 'why you came to my house"' 'you know you are wanted we have an information that what you did,'” “Kebebe” says.

After three months a friend bailed “Kebebe” out of prison.

Kebebe and his wife escaped from Ethiopia and embarked on an odyssey that took them to a Kenyan refugee camp and then to Mexico City, where a smuggler, also known as a coyote, brought the couple to Washington, D.C. The coyote kept the couple's documents.

Applying for asylum in the U.S. requires a high burden of proof and extensive documentation.

"Reports and articles about conditions in that country, what's happening there, testimony from expert witnesses who are familiar with the conditions in that country, testimony from friends, family members who know what happened to you or know what it's like there who can testify to corroborate your claims,” Collopy explains. “If someone was persecuted in the past or harmed or tortured, often times we'll have medical reports that explain what scars they have, a doctor report talking about how their injuries are consistent with different types of torture."

But Kebebe's first lawyer did not present all the necessary evidence before the court. Kebebe was ordered to leave the country. A last minute appeal stopped the deportation. While Kebebe is grateful to be safe, he still misses his homeland.

"It's good to live in this country, but it's not my country. It doesn't matter whether I get the paper or not. My country is my country," says Kebebe.

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