Ethiopian refugee 'burns to death' outside Cairo's UNHCR office

Ethiopian refugee 'burns to death' outside Cairo's UNHCR office
2 min read
29 July, 2016
An Ethiopian asylum seeker has reportedly burnt to death as she assisted a man who self-immolated during a protest in front of the UNHCR office in Cairo.
The Oromos have been fleeing persecution from their home country in recent years [AFP]
An Ethiopian asylum seeker has burnt to death as she attempted to assist a man who had set himself on fire during a protest in front of a UN office in Cairo, according to local media reports.

The incident reportedly took place on Tuesday as members of Ethiopia's Oromo ethnic community protested outside the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to demand the right to seek asylum with the UN body.

On Wednesday, the UNHCR released a statement offering condolences over the death of an Ethiopian woman during the protest, though only attributing her death to a "violent incident", without any reference to how it took place.

"UNHCR deeply regrets the tragic passing of an Ethiopian Oromo asylum seeker on 26 July 2016, following a violent incident outside UNHCR office in Cairo," the statement read.

"She was a mother of two young children and UNHCR would like to offer its sincerest condolences to her family and friends for their loss."

A video circulated online by members of Cairo's Oromo community shows protesters trying to assist the injured man after the fire was controlled, while others argue with Egyptian police officers.

The UNHCR Cairo office was subsequently closed "due to recent events" until further notice, according to another statement.

The protest was part of continuous attempts by refugees in Egypt to demand the UNHCR's recognition of their rights and fair treatment.

The Oromos - Ethiopia's largest ethnic group, with over 35 million people - have been fleeing persecution from their home country in recent years, but unrest intensified in November 2015.

Although the group is considered an ethnic majority, they are largely politically marginalised and forced to assimilate, which has led to many of them fleeing Ethiopia and seeking asylum elsewhere.

Asylum seekers in Egypt often wait months or years to have their paperwork processed for resettlement or to remain in Egypt.

Based on a memorandum of understanding signed by Egypt in 1953, the UNHCR is solely responsible for registering and determining the status of refugees in the country.

As of December 2015, Egypt was host to over 180,000 refugees from around the region, predominantly from Syria, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Iraq, according to UNHCR.

The Oromos are an ethnic group primarily in Ethiopia but also in other neighbouring countries. Although the group is considered the ethnic majority, they are largely politically marginalised and forced to assimilate, which has led to many Oromos choosing to flee Ethiopia and seek asylum elsewhere.