FIRST PERSON: Wario Denebo, an asylum seeker living in Newport
(South Wales Argus) — WARIO Denebo, 37, Southern Oromia, in East Africa, talks to ESTEL FARELL-ROIG about his life and how he ended up being an asylum seeker living in Newport.
“I AM FROM Shashemene, in Southern Oromia. Because the country has been controlled by Ethiopia since the early 1900s, people tend to say it’s Ethiopia – but I wouldn’t like to identified as Ethiopian.
“Oromia was invaded by the Ethiopian emperors with the help of firearms provided by the European colonial establishment of the day in 1884. The process was completed in the early 1900s.
“Ever since then, there has been a fight for freedom and the Ethiopian government has been persecuting Oromo people.
“It’s a dictatorial, terrorist regime where dissent is not tolerated and there’s no freedom of speech.
“I stood against that and, as a result, I received threats from the regime.
“I was involved in exposing human rights violations as the Ethiopian regime uses mass arrests and mass killings as well as torture and deliberate starvation to punish people.
“The thing is, if you are Oromo, you need to prove to the Government that you don’t support the Oromo Liberation Front, which is an opposition party.
“The only way you can prove is by signing up for membership of the ruling party. So, if you don’t sign up, even if you are not involved with the Oromo Liberation Front, you appear to be a traitor. They accuse you of whatever to force you to submit.
“Before I fled the country, I had been to jail.
“The first time I was in jail was in 1996 – I don’t even know what charges were held against me, I was so young.
“The soldiers came to my house and arrested me. I was kept in prison for about three months.
“Later, in 2001, when I was about 19 and I was in college studying history education, I was arrested again.
“There were student protests demanding freedom of speech and release of political prisoners. I was part of that and I was arrested.
“I was kept for six months. I can’t go into detail because it’s a horrible story. There was torture and dehumanising treatment.
“When I was there, they beat me – which made me angrier. I was finally released, with no charges against me.
“Despite graduating with top grades, I was banned from working at schools. They said I’d spoil the children as I wouldn’t agree to teach what they wanted.
“I managed to get a job in a non-governmental school. However, I was also banned from working there.
“When I was about 23, I was offered another job at a charity, I worked for them for many years and I enjoyed it.
“I worked on promoting human rights, amongst others, but because of my job, I was put under government surveillance.
“So I changed jobs and started to work for an international organisation, hoping my situation would get better.
“I had to re-train and went back to university to study management and business administration.
“I worked for NGOs, which was really great for me. It was eye-opening.
“I was about 33 when I first started working for international NGOs.
“Nevertheless, even those people working for international NGOs, can be persecuted by the government – which is what happened to me.
“The week I fled the country, about four years ago, I got tipped off by some people who have access to security that my name was on the list of people who are due to be arrested.
“My closest friend who had been working for Oxfam had recently been arrested.
“His office was raided and he was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment. He was accused of supporting opposition parties.
“I don’t know whether he’s alive, I haven’t managed to keep in touch with him.
“One month before I fled the country, I came to the UK for work so I had a visa. It was still tough to arrange to get out of the country.
“I couldn’t take my family with me.
“I claimed asylum in London nearly four years ago now. It wasn’t my choice to come to Newport.
“When you claim asylum, the Home Office decides where you get accommodation.
“In January 2013, I was sent to Newport while my application was being processed. I wasn’t allowed to work and I had to live on £35 a week.
“It usually takes a few months to process your asylum application, but mine took a long time. I applied for asylum in November 2012 and my application was resolved in July 2014.
“I left my wife and my son behind. He was two-and-a-half years old at the time. It was really painful, it’s indescribable.
“I wasn’t allowed to work when I was capable of doing so and I tried to keep myself busy. If I sat down, I worried. I already spoke English as I did all my studies in English but I also wanted to learn about the culture.
“I volunteered for British Red Cross and other organisations that work with refugees and vulnerable people.
“I also volunteered with my church.
“The most difficult aspect of it all was separation from my family. “For me, the entire clan is my family.
“I still miss them and I hope one day things will change and this terrorist regime will go.
“I’m faithful things will change.
“My wife and my little boy joined me in March 2015, I was on my own for a long time.
“At the moment, I feel sad because the situation back home is getting worse. The regime has now declared state of emergency and, for instance, you can’t use Facebook or listen to international media outlets.
“My dad was abducted by the regime at the beginning of May this year and he’s being kept in a high security prison.
“We didn’t know where he was for a few weeks. He’s still there – only because he’s Oromo and he stood for justice. He has spent most of life going in and out prison.
“A few weeks later, my little 18-year-old sister posted on Facebook ‘I miss you, I love you – you’re my hero.’
“The next day, around 40 heavily armed soldiers raided my parents’ house.
“My mum asked them what they want and whether they had a court order. Before she finished the sentence, they beat her.
“This is reflective of the situation, they’ve killed tens of thousands of people over the years.
“I’m a person with mixed emotions. In a way, I’m lucky to be here. “What makes me happy is that I’m safe and that I feel at home in Newport.
“I like the people here and I love my church. I feel like God has given me a family away from my family.
“I’m living in a free country and can say anything I like.
“I now have a job and I work for Bethel Community Church part time as a development officer. I also work as a freelance interpreter and translator.”