How Ethiopian Airlines Forced a Tigrean Air Hostess Into Exile

 

This is a story of a woman – I will call her ‘Hewan’ – who has been deprived not only of her job, but of the country she loves.

A mother, in her early thirties, Hewan is now seeking refugee status in the USA.

She has left behind her little son and a mother in her sixties. “I feel very sad. I had a life in Addis; I had my son and my family. I never thought of leaving,” Hewan says.

Hewan’s ‘crime’ is that she is a Tigrean.

Discrimination begins

It is painful to hear how the ethnic profiling of Tigreans on Ethiopian Airlines began almost as soon as Abiy Ahmed came to power on 2 April 2018.

It marked the beginning of the end of the EPRDF – a movement in which the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front had played a leading role.

“Now there’s no-one to look out for you,” Hewan was told.

Gradually the ethnic profiling of Tigreans increased.

“We no longer were given flights to Europe or the USA,” Hewan explained. “We were given short-haul destinations in Africa or the Middle East. They are more tiring as there is a rapid turn-around. And the pay is worse. There are no stop-overs or per-diem payments.”

Hewan asked – repeatedly – why this was. Her bosses were evasive, or refused to reply.

She tried to go to her union, but the union had split and a pro-company union was supposed to ‘represent’ the employees. They did nothing.

Into exile

In October last year Hewan took leave and went to see friends in America. When she was scheduled to return her leave was extended. Then she was put on indefinite, unpaid leave. The airline had, in effect, abandoned her.

Now she is staying with a friend of her brothers. They are back in Mekelle with arrest warrants out for them.

“I feel so oppressed. My friends call, but I can’t say anything to them. I am almost crying on the phone.”

Her job as a senior member of Ethiopian Airlines cabin crew has gone.

Seperated from family and the life she loved in Ethiopia, with security officers monitoring her house in Addis, there seem few options for Hewat.