Ethiopian doctor who fled Tigray faces deportation from Kenya

Dr Goitom Aregawi

Dr Goitom Aregawi, an Ethiopian radiologist and activist, arrived in Kenya on April 30, 2021.

Photo credit: Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • Dr Goitom Aregawi, an the Ethiopian radiologist and activist, arrived in Kenya on April 30 but his lawyer says he has been unable to secure asylum after the Interior Ministry stopped processing newcomers.

A medical doctor who fled Makelle in Tigray, Ethiopia, now fears for his life after the Kenyan government shut doors on his asylum application.

Dr Goitom Aregawi, an Ethiopian radiologist and activist, arrived in Kenya on April 30 but his lawyer says he has been unable to secure asylum after the Interior ministry stopped processing newcomers.

“The government has closed registration [of asylum seekers] and now there is a possibility of him being bundled onto the next plane and deported,” the lawyer, Prof George Wajackoyah, told the Nation on Friday.

He asked Kenyan authorities to ensure he remains safe in the country and is not harassed by the police.

Youth movement

Dr Goitom worked at Makelle University Hospital and ran a clinic in the capital of Tigray region but was fingered by authorities for his activism.

He led a grassroots youth movement known as the Seb-Hidri Civil Society Tigray. He also wrote columns in local media outlets and is an influential spokesperson with a huge social media following.

After Ethiopia launched a crackdown on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, calling it a law enforcement operation, Dr Goitom ran into trouble with authorities, forcing him to delete some of his critical social media postings.

He was detained for two weeks in December but was never formally charged in court.

He fled Tigray “in disguise” and arrived in Nairobi at the end of April but his parents and a brother are still stuck in Tigray.  

During the war, his close relatives, including an uncle and a brother, both of whom were civilian and unarmed, were shot dead.

His private clinic was confiscated and his bank account frozen, and he was banned from leaving the region. He only travelled to Nairobi in disguise to save his skin.

National obligations

On Friday, Kodeck Makori, head of the Refugee Affairs Secretariat, the agency that handles asylum applications, said he would not immediately comment on the matter of asylum seekers, referring the Nation to the Interior ministry.

However, the Nation understands that Kenya intends to continue to honour its obligations for refugees and asylum seekers and that, in line with the law, will not deport anyone to a danger zone. 

This means that asylum seekers from Ethiopia will be safe and will not be deported until their application procedure is determined.

The Interior ministry earlier said the registration centre in Nairobi would be closed for renovations and would be up and running upon completion of the project.

But the government has also suspended receipt of refugees and asylum seekers as it plans to close down refugee camps in Kakuma and Dadaab.

Kenya is supposed to work with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to close the camps in the next one year, to address security challenges associated with them.

However, the country will not close the door on future applicants for refuge, as part of Nairobi's legal obligations.


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