Streets & Scars
Fiekremarme Nagash Beshe comes from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He is 34 years old, a calm, friendly, and thoughtful person. Fiekre, like his friends call him, worked as a driving school instructor in the country’s capital for many years. In 2014 he took to the streets with many thousands of other protesters who came from different milieus and ethnic backgrounds. The overhead crossed arms became the symbol of the protests. Fiekre and many others claimed an end to dictatorship, freedom for all citizens, free speech, economic possibilities, the end to police brutality, and the ongoing ethnic violence in the country. The massive peaceful protests were brutally suppressed by state forces, which led to heavy casualties.[i]
On August 6, 2016, again, thousands of people went to the streets. Fiekre was among them as the security forces attacked the demonstrators. He started running but stumbled in turmoil and fell to the ground. While lying on the asphalt, he was severely beaten with a truncheon by a police officer. “Luckily, demonstrators could overrun the security forces by a counter-attack. That is why I managed to escape the situation. Otherwise, I would be dead,” Fiekrerecounts with a pensive face. As a result, he suffered an artery damage in his left thigh and severe internal bleeding that had to be stopped by an emergency surgery. The scar is still clearly noticeable.
The same year, Fiekre joined the “Patriotic Ginbot 7 Movement for Unity and Democracy” (“Ginbot 7”)[ii], an anti-governmental movement and political organization, which declared the struggle for a democratic, peaceful, and pluralist Ethiopia.[iii] He worked in a clandestine group, which distributed brochures at night, put up posters, wrote political slogans on walls, recruited new members, and held secret meetings. Every single action entailed the risk of getting detained and/or killed by the police.
Nevertheless, he was committed to continuing protests and his political activities in the “Gobot 7” movement. In early 2018, however, some group members were detained while distributing leaflets of the organization, which the police arrested or rather did away. Fiekre went underground and hid in different places for eight days. Thus far, he does not know about the whereabouts and fate of his seized friends. He assumes that they were tortured into giving away information and then killed subsequently.
Dispossession & Flight
To not share the same destiny as his friends, he could not go home or to any other place he usually used to visit. The days after the arrest, he desperately developed an escape plan with his remaining friends. His group leader introduced him to an Arabic-speaking broker from Somalia, with whom he could hardly communicate, but who provided him a visa for France. The price was high, but he had no choice, though. He had to spend all his savings of the last six years and also asked his family for help, to raise the sum of 450.00 Ethiopian Birrs (ETB) (almost 12.000€). Also, Fiekre was forced to hand over all his school certificates, driving licenses, and documents to the middleman. He never saw them again.
The Visa enabled him to leave the country without difficulties. When he took the plane he did not even know that he was on his way to Paris, due to the lack of understanding with the broker. There, he tried to find people he could speak to in Amharic to figure out where to go and what to do. Eventually, he randomly met someone who offered him some food and encouraged Fiekre to take the TGV to Frankfurt. In Frankfurt, again, a stranger showed him how to get to Hessian’s central initial reception institution in Gießen (70km north of Frankfurt) and bought him a train ticket.
Things & Orientation in Uncertain Times
The opening of his asylum procedure as a politically persecuted person was followed by an odyssey through many Hessian reception facilities. In a provisional reception center on an old university campus, he spent more than six months. In the meantime, he joined the Frankfurt section of “Ginbot 7” to continue his political activities in exile. As his application for asylum was rejected, he had to hide for 18 months from the police to evade the Dublin time limits for transfer.[iv] The second application for asylum was declined in a very short time since he could not prove to be personally persecuted in Ethiopia. Right now, Fiekre has been given only a temporary suspension of deportation, which will expire shortly.
Fiekre lives with a family in the Rhine-Main region who offered him a place to stay. He found some of his interiors in the bulk garbage, such as a couch, a carpet. Other domestic items were given to him by friends and acquaintances. Whenever he finds a piece of furniture of better quality, he replaces the ones he has.
At the moment, he attends a German language class. His sincere wish is to start vocational training. Recently, a workshop offered him to take a position as a car mechanic trainee, though, since his work permit was not approved by the Ministry of Migration and Refugees (BAMF), he had to let it go.
Thinking of the next BAMF appointment fills Fiekre with dread. For a while, he cannot sleep properly. The idea of being deported and handed over to the same authorities that killed, imprisoned, and tortured so many of his companions and friends makes him panic during our conversations.
While Fiekre explained his story chronologically well-structured on the bases of events, the periods that were tremendously dangerous and insecure blur in his narrations. He struggles to arrange these periods of his life that were dominated by existential threats. It seems he has repressed the memory of them.
While others use biographical objects as sensational stimulations of memories, Fiekre does not possess such things. He uses the documents of his procedures and the interview minute to orientate and locate certain events of his biography. Still, the right materials are not always easy to find. In this sense, the folder serves as a portable archive of knowledge and reassurance that enables him to orientate in his narration and, at the same time, contains the negative authority decisions, the cause of his desperate situation today. The binder materializes his course of migration as well as his rejection.
Abiy Ahmed Ali, Ethiopia’s president, was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2019 for his reconciliation efforts with neighboring countries, primarily Eritrea.[v] However, he seems to be unable to tackle the internal issues, to pacify the highly divided nation, and to provide perspective and freedom to its citizens.
For Fiekre, these developments are adverse in a double sense:
First, the threats of being persecuted and killed are still in place since the people in the security apparatus that suppressed the protest in 2018 are still in charge. At the end of May 2020, Amnesty International has issued a report in which they accused the Ethiopian security forces of mass detention, inhuman treatment, and extrajudicial killings.[vi] End of June 2020, the musician and activist Haacaaluu Hundeessaa was shot in Addis Ababa after criticizing the government in an interview. At least 80 people were killed in the following protests; senior opposition members were arrested.[vii]
Second, the chances to become acknowledged as an asylum seeker became extremely low, due to the positive image Ethiopia has gained on an international level. The dangers to his life in Addis Ababa remain the same, while their recognition dwindles. For Fiekre, who strives for democracy in his country and for living a regular life in Europe (until then), this shift in Ethiopia’s representation and the more or less untouched internal conditions are a perilous mixture.