The federal government of Ethiopia deported 15 American students who were teaching English in small, rural communities in eastern Hararghe region of Oromiya for several weeks.
They had been volunteering in several communities not far from the Ogaden and an off-limits region of Ethiopia where government forces are battling Ogaden National Liberation Front rebel forces. The trip was organized by Learning Enterprises International in Stanford, California. This was the third year the project had been in operation.
Police performed a synchronized dawn raid of homes in HaraMaya, Awwadaay, Gobboo and Dadar on July 9, questioned them for the day, confiscating their cell phones and cameras and taking them to Addis. According to sources, at various times police accused the students of taking photographs, of asking questions about the disputed 2005 national elections and the coming 2010 elections, and of being in the country with improper visas. Community residents asking about the reason for the detentions were later told the students had the H1N1 virus.
The students were detained for two days and were not allowed to contact their families or the U.S. embassy. Embassy officials were unable to see them until shortly before federal officials put them on a plane and deported them on July 11.One of the students was held several extra days. An embassy spokesman said they have raised serious concerns about the handling of this case with the Government of Ethiopia, specifically regarding the refusal by Ethiopian security forces to permit these American citizens to contact the embassy. The embassy will continue discussions with the Ethiopian Government on the exact nature of the events.
State Minister for Government Communications Shimelis Kemal told VOA’s Eskinder Firew only that the students were involved in inappropriate activity “contrary to their mission.” None were charged with any violations of the law.