BY BILEH JELAN @BILEHJELAN
Addis Abeba, April 21, 2021 – In a recent show of challenge to discriminatory practices applied against Ethio-Somalis applying for new passports, a number of new passport applicants held up signs protesting unjust treatment at the regional branch office of the immigration, nationality and vital events agency (INVEA). The signs that were written in English and Af Somaalii read, ‘I don’t have 5,000 USD’; an indication that bribes as high as the aforementioned amount in USD were asked of applicants applying for a new Ethiopian passport, way further from the original cost of passport that only cost 600, 2186 in ETB respectively for 32 and 64 pages passports. The payment is only accepted if accompanied by all requirements set by INVEA to acquire a new passport. Pictures of the protest signs flooded social media and dominated the conversation on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
The signs protest that took place on Friday, April 16, 2021, shed a light on this practice along other practices and raised questions related to the issuance of identification documents to Ethio-Somalis. An issue that remains at the center of citizenship questions the Somali population in Ethiopia has long raised. The community has always complained that discriminatory practices when acquiring said documents were applied against them and, according to many despite repeated promises by their representatives remain unaddressed. The Ethio-Somali case remains focal in discussions about issues relating to citizenship rights and laws in the country.
THE SIGNS THAT WERE WRITTEN IN ENGLISH AND AF SOMAALII READ, ‘I DON’T HAVE 5,000 USD’; AN INDICATION THAT BRIBES AS HIGH AS THE AFOREMENTIONED AMOUNT IN USD WERE ASKED OF APPLICANTS …
Nevertheless, the recent protest opened conversations to other practices, some of which Addis Standard discussed with Guleed Mohammed, one of the organizers of the sign protest and a prominent social justice activist. He told Addis Standard, “I am all for the integration of the Horn of Africa but the case cannot be that Somalis, who are not even born in the region and come from neighboring Somali countries and territories who possess enough financial means are able to acquire the Ethiopian passport and many who are born here or are natives of the region remain without one.”
Guleed explained the reasons he believed were behind such injustices, “Corruption is rampant in the INVEA branch office here in Jigjiga and that could be credited to three main factors The illegal background check despite having all required documents that proof citizenship before any application is processed, the control of the process left to one officer who as any human is subject his/her biases and the limiting of the application process to one location in a region that is the second biggest in land mass after Oromia Regional State,” he continued, “This creates a situation where systems of favoritism, nepotism and discrimantion based on clan loyalties are encouraged.”
“I AM ALL FOR THE INTEGRATION OF THE HORN OF AFRICA BUT THE CASE CANNOT BE THAT SOMALIS, WHO ARE NOT EVEN BORN IN THE REGION AND COME FROM NEIGHBORING SOMALI COUNTRIES AND TERRITORIES WHO POSSESS ENOUGH FINANCIAL MEANS ARE ABLE TO ACQUIRE THE ETHIOPIAN PASSPORT AND MANY WHO ARE BORN HERE OR ARE NATIVES OF THE REGION REMAIN WITHOUT ONE.”
GULEED MOHAMMED, A SOCIAL JUSTICE ACTIVIST
AbdulKaid Burale, a long time observer of the region and a human rights activist complimented Guleed but expanded, “It is an issue of constitutionally guaranteed rights.” AbdulKaid expanded, “How wrong is demanding a treatment that is equally similar to all citizens of the country? Imagine being asked for 5,000 USD in a low income country like ours when you know other Ethiopians are not asked the same. I myself went to Dire Dawa and received my passport without the hurdles that are imposed on the region’s population.”
Both Abdulkaid and Guleed spoke of repeated attempts where complaints were registered with the regional as well as the federal governments but both argue that little to no change ever occurs. Guleed said, “The government intervened multiple times, the INVEA used ‘network problems’ as an excuse every time. They promise to fix it and resume service in two to three weeks time but when service is resumed the practices become harsher, the demands for bribes remain unchanged.”
“CREATING A COMMITTEE WILL ERASE THE CHALLENGE THAT HAVING ONE OFFICER IN CONTROL OF THE WHOLE PROCESS CREATES BUT THAT DOES NOT CHANGE THE FACT THAT THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD ADDRESS CHALLENGES RELATED TO ACQUIRING CITIZENSHIP FOR THE SOMALI POPULATION OF ETHIOPIA BY ELIMINATING ALL BUREAUCRATIC HURDLES.”
Guleed Mohammed argued that instead of carrying on with these bureaucratic hurdles that deny Ethiopian Somalis their constitutional rights, a committee or a panel of experts that oversee the background check process should be set up to ease challenges faced by citizens. He said, “Creating a committee will erase the challenge that having one officer in control of the whole process creates but that does not change the fact that the government should address challenges related to acquiring citizenship for the Somali population of Ethiopia by eliminating all bureaucratic hurdles.”
Addis Standard repeated attempts to contact both the INVEA\s main office in Addis Abeba and the Jigjiga office for comments were to no avail. AS