Refugee Voices – Awoke From Ethiopia
Protecting the persecuted is a core American ideal. At Human Rights First, we help asylum seekers who fled persecution and violence navigate the complex U.S. legal system by matching them with high-quality pro bono attorneys. Explore Awoke's inspiring journey from persecution to freedom.
Represented by McDermott Will & Emery
Awoke was a supporter of a political opposition group in his home country of Ethiopia. In the run-up to the general election of 2005, Awoke was arrested, detained and beaten during violent police crackdowns on peaceful protestors. Awoke and his fellow protestors believed that there had been government-sponsored corruption in the voting process—a belief that was later confirmed by international observers.
Even after this brutal experience, Awoke went on with his life and political feelings, hoping that he could be a part of making his country a better place to live. He graduated from college and started working in IT support and web programming. After that, Awoke opened his own successful cyber cafe. Unfortunately, his customers used his computers to download software to circumvent the government’s internet censorship and access blocked websites critical of the regime. Because of this internet activity, Awoke was again arrested, detained, beaten, and interrogated. He was released on the condition that he never participated in opposition politics again, and that he checks in each week at a local government office. Terrified at what the rest of his life would be like under the repressive Ethiopian regime, Awoke escaped to the United States and sought protection.
“I FEEL I AM ON THE RIGHT TRACK TO LIVING THE AMERICAN DREAM. I SEE A LOT OF HOPE IN MY FUTURE. I SEE WHERE I AM ABLE TO CHANGE THE LIVES OF MANY OTHERS. THANK YOU HUMAN RIGHTS FIRST.”
HUMAN RIGHTS IN ETHIOPIA
Ethiopia is ruled by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of four ethnically based parties that have controlled the country since the 1990s.
Torture and ill-treatment have been used by Ethiopia’s police, military, and other members of the security forces to punish a spectrum of perceived dissenters, including university students, members of the political opposition, and journalists. Secret detention facilities and military barracks are most often used by Ethiopian security forces for such activities.
Although Ethiopia’s criminal code and other laws contain provisions to protect fundamental human rights, they frequently go unenforced. The U.S. Department of state found in 2013 that the most significant human rights problems included, “restrictions on freedom of expression and association, politically motivated trials, harassment and intimidate of opposition members and journalists, as well as continued restrictions on print media.” This report further found that there were arbitrary killings, allegations of torture, beatings, interference in religious affairs, limits on citizens’ ability to change their government, infringement on citizens’ privacy rights, arbitrary arrest and detention and many other disturbing reports of abuse of Ethiopians at the hands of their own government.
LAWYERS MAKING A DIFFERENCE
“When I was told that I was granted asylum, I would say it was the day that I was born again…I see my life totally changing. Thank you, Raymond.”
Human Rights First has been working with McDermott, Will & Emery for nearly 30 years. In that time, the firm has taken and won relief in every asylum case that Human Rights First has placed with the firm, both in their New York and Washington DC offices.
“It was a successful case, and to see Awoke’s smile when he got the word that he had asylum, it was reward for all the work that we put into his case. It’s great to be in a country that not only affords its own citizens protection freedom from oppression on political grounds, but accepts others from countries around the world.” – Raymond Paretzky
In 2009 and 2014, McDermott, Will & Emery’s Washington, D.C. office was honored with the Marvin Frankel Award for its outstanding contribution to Human Rights First’s asylum program. This is the first time in the history of the Frankel award that a firm has been recognized twice for its achievement in pro bono representation.