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'From Nowhere:' A Refugee From Ethiopia, 10 Years Later

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The Oromo people make up about 35 percent of Ethiopia's population. That makes them the single largest ethnic group in the east-African country. For years Oromo students have been subject to discrimination and harassment because of their identity. During a crackdown in April against Oromo students at Mizan Tepi University, hundreds of students were imprisoned. Mohammed Oumar Abda is an Ethiopian refugee of Oromo descent, currently living in Riverdale, Md.

"I used to be proud of myself. I used to be proud to express who I am, proud of my culture, proud of my well-being, but now I'm not," Abda says.

His life turned upside down in his third year at Addis Ababa University in 2001. He joined thousands of other students to demonstrate for their academic freedom, and the Ethiopian government responded with brutality.

"I was also one of the individuals that the government wanted to attack," Abda says.

Upon his dad's advice, he decided to flee the country and went to Kenya with other students. He met his future wife at a refugee camp there. She'd fled Somalia with her family because of civil war. They married in 2006 and now have three children.

In 2010 Abda and his family came to the United States through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. His life in Riverdale, he says, is more secure than the one he had in Ethiopia and Kenya.

"I am very happy that I am able to work a job I want, I am free to move. I don't have a fear of insecurity," Abda says.

Since December Mohammed has been working as a leasing consultant to support his wife and children. His oldest is 4 years old. His wife, Kafiya, says while she misses Kenya, she is also glad to be in the States.

"In America they have peace and they have freedom and that's why I like [it]," she says.

While they are free, Abda says, life has not been easy.

"I sometimes hesitate telling people who I am because I am from nowhere, from middle of nowhere. And I lost everything, I lost the culture, I lost the welcoming people, I lost the helping people, I lost everything about Ethiopia," he says.

Despite all the hardships, Abda says, he will do anything for his children to have a better future.

"A candle, to give a light, it melts so to give my kids a bright future, I want to melt like a candle," he says.

Abda says he will make sure his children will go to school and have the opportunities he didn't have, being who they want and what they want to be.

Delal's report is a part of collaboration between WAMU 88.5 News and Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.


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