Photo Credit: Yu Chun Christopher Wong/S3studios
Ethiopian Airlines Employees Are Fleeing The Country's Civil War By Hiding In Planes
Ethiopia’s current civil war erupted in November 2020 in the Tigray region. Since then, thousands of Tigrayans have died and another 50,000 have fled the country, according to UN figures. Others are desperately choosing riskier ways of fleeing Ethiopia by hiding in the cargo holds of planes of Ethiopian Airlines.
This was the case for two young Ethiopian men -Yohannes and Gebremeskel, as reported by CNN. The names of the refugees have been changed at their request for security reasons.
The two men, both 25 and of Tigray origin, were found last December in an Airbus A350 plane from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Belgium. They were seeking asylum in the European country.
The total flight duration from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Brussels, Belgium— 7 hours and 28 minutes.
The two ground technicians with Ethiopian Airlines said they decided to flee because they were in danger. According to Yohannes, four of his relatives have been killed, his fiancé is in prison in Ethiopia’s Afar region and his sister— who is currently seven months pregnant— was taken from his house along with his furniture.
For them, stowing away among crates of fresh flowers was the only choice to save their lives, they feared they could be the next victims of Ethiopia’s security forces.
Yohannes and Gebremeskel told CNN they climbed into the storage section of a converted Ethiopian Airlines cargo plane that was sitting in one of the hangars at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. The plane departed to Brussels, Belgium.
Gebremeskel said that they fled with no clothes or belongings. They were only wearing their Ethiopian Airlines crew jackts.
“We took the risk. We were — we had no choice, we had no choice, we couldn’t live in Addis Ababa, we were being treated as terrorists,” said Yohannes.
Both men obtained asylum in Belgium, according to CNN.
“We don’t have anything to change into here, no underwear, no shoes, even the shoes […] we tried to cover our feet and legs with what we had.”
The conflict started when Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed decided to carry out an operation to dismantle the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that fights for secession from the Ethiopian nation-state. The prime minister, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, promised a short intervention, but it turned into a ferocious civil war.
Thousands of Tigrayans have been either detained or killed under emergency laws imposed last November.
“Ethiopian authorities have arbitrarily detained, mistreated, and forcibly disappeared thousands of ethnic Tigrayans,” Human Rights Watch said.
A spokeswoman for the office of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed explained in an emailed statement to CNN that the state of emergency was lifted on January 26, 2022, and many who were detained under the emergency law were released.
“You would note that the Council of Ministers has today decided to lift the State of Emergency. Individuals apprehended under the SOE [State of Emergency] have been released in great numbers, over the past weeks by the security sector, following investigations,” spokeswoman Billene Seyoum Woldeyes said.
Yohannes and Gebremeskel are not the only airline employees who have fled by plane. On December 1, two other Ethiopian Airlines technicians hid themselves above a plane crew’s bunk. That plane that was heading to Washington, DC, a spokesperson for the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP)said. Their journey would last more than 36 hours in total.
The men were detained by the US Department of Homeland Security before later being transferred to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
“The two Ethiopian males are presently housed at a federal detention facility pending a hearing before an immigration judge,” CBP told CNN.
Ethiopian Airlines has not responded to CNN’s request for comment regarding the stowaways’ journeys.