Selam Woldu doesn’t know if her family is alive or dead.
Fighting broke out in Woldu’s home country of Ethiopia on Nov. 4 after the government accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the Tigray region of the country, of holding an illegal election and attacking a federal army base. She hasn’t heard from her family since.
“That day I tried to call my family to see how they were doing, and there was no phone, no internet, there was nothing,” Woldu said.
There has been a communication blackout in the last two weeks as violence has escalated and military have marched toward Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said “the final act of law enforcement will be done.” The TPLF claims that the central government is illegitimate because it postponed national elections due to the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International reported on Nov. 12 that “scores of civilians” have been massacred and 25,000 people have fled to neighbouring Sudan.
“Now the unknown is killing us. The unknown is killing me,” said Woldu, who lives in Victoria with her three children. She grew up in Ethiopia during a decades long civil war, and is no stranger to air raids and violence. Woldu said those memories haunt her at night as she imagines what may be happening to her family.
“I’ve never experienced the pain that I’m feeling right now,” she said. At night she tosses and turns, unable to sleep, but during the day she is fighting to get the attention of media, the government and the international community.
On Nov. 13 Woldu organized a rally at the legislature, calling on Canada to take action. “We can’t just sit and watch people die,” she said.
Ethiopians are also at risk of starvation. Not only are they facing war and COVID-19, but what the UN is calling the “worst locust swarm in 25 years.” Almost half a million acres of farmland have been destroyed since January.
“People need bread not bombs,” Woldu urged.
Seeing her homeland fall back into war makes her feel sick she said. “There was always unrest, but Ethiopia was booming. It was growing. Things were really good. For us to go back to where we were before 1991 just breaks my heart.”
For now, all she can do is wait and hope that her efforts make more people pay attention. “I just want the world to look at these civilians and save their lives,” she said. If it doesn’t, she added, the world will regret it.
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