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Case Study: Tilahun’s Story

Torture and Torment in Ethiopia: Tilahun’s Story 

Case Study Tilahun in Ethiopia

Through blood-shot eyes he tells me about the day his world changed forever. 

In fact, he can pin it down to the exact moment. The morning was like almost any other, his routine familiar and rehearsed, the central market as it was the day before, and the many that came before it. 

In an instant, in that very market, in the city he had called home for his whole life, it changed. 

The Bigger Picture 

Ethiopia is a large and beautiful country. It is also a complex country. The sprawling green capital nestled in the verdant Ethiopian highlands slick with overnight rain, pulses vibrantly to the sound of afrobeat music and the young morning hawkers selling their wares. 

To the East however, along the Somali border, communities are facing their fourth successive failed rains and the resulting famine is devastating large swathes of the country. Meanwhile to the North, ongoing civil war in and around the Tigray region has forced millions from their homes. 

The truth is that people across the country are waking up to difficult and upsetting realities, where for one reason or another, they are losing their homes, their livelihoods, and even their loved ones. 

International or Domestic? 

Although Ethiopia is partly a victim of international making – the war in Ukraine has cut off its staples of wheat, driving prices up, while global carbon emissions have affected rainfall – many of the challenges are domestic in nature. 

In a country that boasts the ‘Father of African Unity’, innocent civilians are being targeted according to their ethnicity. As the armed militia ambushed and surrounded the market on that fateful day, Tilahun feared he was in trouble. When they started indiscriminately shooting into the crowds, he was certain. 

Tilahun’s Story: Losing Hope 

Tilahun lost everything that day; family, friends, his home, his career, but also he tells me, his sense of self and pride: 

They tried to kill me for who I am. And now he says he is losing hope. If hope really is the last to die, then Tilahun is in dire straits. One of his children tugs at his hands, and he pulls himself from his revery; “I can work!”, he says excitedly, “I just need the opportunity”, and that is what we hope to give him. 

Returning from the makeshift camps, we enter Oromia, the region Tilahun was born in. The region he grew up in, the region he was a schoolteacher in, and the region he ran from. We pass a checkpoint manned by the very armed militia who had hunted him down in the market that day. He will never return to this region. 

The Future? 

Thanks to our generous supporters, World Jewish Relief has been working with a local partner in recent months to support those displaced by the Tigray conflict, those forced to move by the failed rains, and now, vulnerable ethnic groups who are fleeing for their lives from mindless massacres. Tilahun is currently living in an old town hall with his family in a neighbouring region, cramped in alongside 75 more people. 

With some encouragement and support, Tilahun will be able to create a new life for himself; one where he is looking forward, rather than over his shoulder.