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How hundreds of Syrians have found refuge in Ethiopia | Ethiopia



Addis Ababa – Abdulwahid Mohammed, a young Syrian refugee from Hama, tends his clients to Damascus, a restaurant owned jointly by Ethiopians and Syrians in the Bole Michael district of Addis Ababa.

Mohammed, now twenty years old, has traveled to Ethiopia as a teenager with his family five years ago fleeing the Syrian civil war.

He currently runs the restaurant, serving a mix of Syrian and Ethiopian food.

Among his Ethiopian staff, he is known as a shy workaholic.

"I came to Ethiopia through Sudan, and since I arrived in Ethiopia I discovered that it was a stable country, with a relatively easy process to obtain a foreign identity document, so that Ethiopian people were generous with me" , he told Al Jazeera.

Mohammed wears dark sunglasses during an interview to disguise his identity. He is afraid to expose relatives back home in Syria to possible pay from both the government and the rebel forces.

She is one of the hundreds of Syrians who settled in Ethiopia, a non-Arab, predominantly Christian, nation of East Africa.

Many Syrians know Ethiopia through the Holy Qur'an, which mentions ancient Ethiopia as a place of refuge for early Muslims.

Yemane Gebremeskel, spokesman for the Immigration Agency, Citizenship and Vital Registration in Ethiopia

While the Syrians constitute a small fraction of the refugee population in Ethiopia, estimated at over 905,000 by the UN, they have attracted attention and sympathy among the locals.

The combination of a broad international media coverage of the Syrian civil war, the long distance between the two countries and the presence of indigent people with fair skin on the streets of the capital – a rarity in Ethiopia – has many Ethiopians extend generosity, ranging from financial assistance to job offers.

Yemane Gebremeskel, spokesperson for Ethiopia Immigration, Citizenship and Vital Registration Agency (EICVRA), a government organization that registers foreign citizens, said that although Ethiopia is a poor country, it has taken refuge in 20 countries.

After conducting a survey from August 1 to December 16, Gebremeskel said there were at least 560 Syrian refugees in Ethiopia, most of whom arrived via Sudan.

According to the agency, 157 Syrians have registered as refugees, 50 have received a temporary residence permit, while others are in transit and tourist visas.

According to the agency, the total number of Syrians who entered Ethiopia from the start of the Syrian civil war in March 2011 is likely to be higher.

"Ethiopia has a long history of welcoming refugees," said Gebremeskel. "The Syrians are no exception, with Ethiopia having signed a series of conventions for refugees: the service given to the Syrians meets our international obligations".

Women walk past the rubble of damaged buildings in Raqqa, Syria, on May 14, 2018 [Aboud Hamam/Reuters]

The Ethiopian government allowed Syrians to move across the country, unlike refugees of other nationalities, and helped them receive assistance from UN agencies.

On average, Syrians receive monthly salaries of $ 80 per month along with counseling, health care and educational support from the UN.

Gebremeskel said that while many arrive after consulting their Ethiopian friends in Syria or Sudan, other factors are at stake.

"Many Syrians know Ethiopia through the Holy Qur'an, which mentions ancient Ethiopia as a place of refuge for early Muslims.

"There is also a strong historical historical connection between the Ethiopian and Syrian Orthodox Churches, so Ethiopia is not a totally foreign country for many Syrians".

God is great, Ethiopians treat me well. They are very nice but my situation is difficult. I want to find work in Ethiopia, until Syria returns to peace and I can return.

Ahmed, 18-year-old Syrian

Despite their small numbers, Middle Eastern refugees have a visible role, with Addis Ababa witnessing a proliferation of Syrian restaurants and Syrian rugs that gain a steady popularity among Ethiopian buyers.

But other Syrians are forced to ask for alms on the streets of Addis Ababa or near mosques and churches, holding "help me" signs in the official Amharic language of Ethiopia.

Although they speak little English and not amharic, their motifs arouse sympathy.

Ahmed (not his real name), 18, is from Damascus and has been asking for alms in the capital for seven weeks with his seven-year-old niece.

He arrived with his niece, brother and sister, after the rest of his family was killed during the war.

"I came to Sudan five months ago by air from Syria after many of my family were martyred. I had worked in a shawarma restaurant in Khartoum. An Ethiopian who was working with me suggested I migrate to Ethiopia and decided to take his advice and come to Addis Ababa, "Ahmed said.

He said he had come to Ethiopia on the street after receiving a visa from the Ethiopian embassy in Khartoum.

At night, he stays in a hotel room and says he already has a close friendship with a Syrian working in a restaurant in Addis Ababa.

But not all Ethiopians welcomed the Syrians, with local media reporting occasional clashes between the refugees and the impoverished Ethiopians to "get hot".

There have also been occasional police raids on Syrian beggars, while those on visas for tourism and business, but neither on holiday nor at work, have created legal ambiguities.

However, for now at least, many are happy to be in a safer country in Syria.

"God is great, Ethiopians treat me well," said Ahmed, the beggar. "They are very nice, but my situation is difficult, I want to find work in Ethiopia, until Syria returns to peace and I can come back".


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