A Place where There Is Peace, Is where I Want to Live

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

Mebratu Selam lived in Indonesia for a while now. He was granted “Refugee status” by UNHCR. Twenty-six years ago, he was born in a small town in Ethiopia into a family of an ethnic minority. After graduating high school he had studied at the Academy of Engineering, but did not finish it. Fortunately, after training in the field of construction engineering with good results, he was recruited by a company and worked as construction worker. But his life was soon to change due to threats and insecurity, forcing him to leave home in search of safety.

“The government often acts using threats, violence, coercion, and even actions that result in death,” he remembers.
Mebratu’s family was supporting an organization that was critical of the Government. Injustice and discrimination experienced by ethnic minorities motivated them to engage in political education often criticizing the authorities. In January 2011 government officers came to his family’s house asking them to hand over the entire land they owned. Facing this unjust request, his father resisted by openly refusing the authorities request.

“They dragged my father to the large land belongs to us. They forced him to hand over the land to the government. Because he still refused, they beat and tortured my father cruelly until he lay on the ground in a state of unconsciousness. As a result of the abuse, a month later my father died,” he recalls with sadness.
The government did not allow people to attend the father’s funeral at a cemetery arguing that the opponents of the government do not need to be remembered. “At the funeral, soldiers came to prevent the presence of those who wanted to mourn him. I was angry and quarreled with the soldiers. Because of that I was beaten and arrested and put in jail for three months,” he said.

Since then the government monitored Mebratu’s activities closely. Even then, he continued to provide political education to young people secretly. Injustice and persecution witnessed and experienced by minorities making it hard to stay quiet. “Sometimes we get together to discuss what has been done by the government to a minority and what we should strive for.”

On one night in August, two soldiers captured Mebratu at home bringing him to a unknown location. “They put me into a dark room. My hands and feet tied. In a curled up position, I was beaten and kicked. They beat me all night,” recalls Mebratu with sadness and anger. “If you and your brother do not stop opposing the government, I will kill you,” he was threatened by one of the soldiers that night. They forced me to sign a statement that contains the willingness to support the ruling government party. I had to sign it because I could not stand the torture. Then they released me.

At midnight in mid-August, three soldiers came back to my house. That night, I managed to escape, while my older brother was caught and imprisoned until now.
Later the enforcement of an Anti-Terrorism Act further complicated the situation of the minorities critical to the Government. The law legitimates to accuse anyone who does not agree with the policy of the Government to be a terrorist. Against these so called terrorists, the Government acted arbitrarily, arrests, beatings, persecution, and even deaths were a result. “I was afraid because of the threats so I was forced to flee to Kenya and get to Indonesia,” said Mebratu.

In Indonesian exile he found new friends. “For me, JRS is like family, they would come to visit me, say hello, invite me to chat and listen to my stories. JRS provides financial support and pays for this room. JRS even will come and wait for us when we are sick and in hospital to the extent that they themselves forget to eat lunch. I am very grateful for all of this,” he said.

Awaiting his resettlement to a third country, he hopes to learn on a free online course in Project Management as a preparation for work in the future. He is willing to be settling in any country as long as it is safe and peaceful. “Place me wherever you want, what is important is that I can live like a human being.”
Mebratu is only one of millions of people who were forced to leave loved ones in search of a secure and humane future. Encountering friendship and solidarity by others in situations where one feels most vulnerable rekindles hope in the midst of adversity. ***

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