(Editor’s note: We have changed the name of this story’s subject to protect his family.)
Hailu never dreamed that his research work in Ethiopia would make him a political target who feared for his life.
Five years ago, Hailu would have described his personal life in his native land as good. He was a young professional respected for his land use and climate change research work. He and his wife had two beautiful children and they lived comfortably in the capital city of Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia has been known for decades as a land of drought and poverty. While rural regions continue to struggle, in recent years Addis Ababa has experienced growth and the government wanted to expand the urban boundaries into an adjacent rural region.
Hailu was part of a research team that examined the impacts that the proposed urban expansion would have on the rural land and the people living there. Their report concluded that the expansion should not move forward—an unpopular recommendation with government officials.
Shortly after the release of the report, Hailu faced a series of arrests and detentions. Afraid for his personal safety, he retreated to a rural region in an attempt to avoid being further targeted by authorities. According to Human Rights Watch, the Ethiopian government regularly silences critical voices by making arbitrary arrests and politically-motivated prosecutions to crack down on opposition.
“One day my wife called to tell me that I received a new summons to report for interrogation,” Hailu said. “I was told to report to a detention facility known for its violent treatment and she warned me not to come home. I knew she was right to be fearful. I knew that my life was in danger and I had to leave the country.”
Hailu got a lucky break in early 2015 when the US Forest Service offered him an opportunity to work on a project in the states. He quickly accepted the assignment. His wife hastily packed his travel bag and delivered it to him, and he boarded a flight to America.
Upon completion of his project, Hailu made his way to Seattle to visit a friend. Still fearful for his life should he return to Ethiopia, Hailu decided to apply for asylum. Northwest Immigrant Rights Project accepted his legal case and the organization referred him to LCS Northwest’s International Counseling and Community Services (ICCS) for additional assistance.
“Seeking asylum has been hard,” acknowledged Hailu. “I feel depressed because I miss my family so much. I spoke with my wife only once to let her know I was safe in the US, but I cannot have regular contact because I fear for my family’s safety. My counselor Anisa helps me to be strong and accept the situation.”
In December, 2016, Hailu’s request for asylum was granted. Now he is beginning to build a new life in America.
“Hailu wants to support himself and be financially independent,” said Anisa Ahmed, his cross cultural counselor at LCS Northwest. “He used employment agencies and online resources to find a job. Now he has his own apartment and is gradually adjusting to life in America.
“He has taken a computer science course to advance his skills and he is networking to build professional contacts. He enjoys going to the library to read up on American culture and spends time conversing with Americans to improve his English.”
LCS Northwest’s Refugee and Asylum Services (RAS), serving the Puget Sound area, helps refugees and asylum seekers rebuild lives and heal from trauma associated with war, torture and persecution. Programs consist of foster care for unaccompanied refugee minors, cross cultural counseling, intensive case management, and basic needs resources. Each year, RAS assists over 700 refugees and asylum seekers from more than 30 different countries.