Ethiopian denied citizenship over alleged human trafficking

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MASERU — An Ethiopian refugee has been denied Lesotho citizenship after he was accused of human trafficking and money laundering, the Lesotho Times heard this week.

Eyob Belay Eyaya Asemie, 34, said he was due to be sworn-in as a Lesotho citizen together with 12 other foreign nationals by Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla last week Monday.

He claims his name was struck off the roll at the last minute under controversial circumstances.

This was in spite of a recommendation last December by the Ombudsman Alina Fanana that he be granted citizenship.

Asemie this week accused the National Security Service, police, senior home affairs officials and the Commissioner of Refugees, Mohlolo Lerotholi, of thwarting his bid for citizenship.

This was the third time that Asemie had failed to be sworn-in after allegations that he was a criminal masquerading as a refugee.

Asemie says he first attempted to acquire Lesotho citizenship in August 2010 but when he entered the hall where the ceremony was being held he was ordered out “or the police would be called to throw me out”.

He says he then tried again last March but officials at the immigration department struck his name off the list of naturalised people.

Asemie claims the department also deleted his name again despite Fanana’s warning on December 29 last year that “blocking his glorious day to take an oath” would be “discriminatory and an abuse of office”.

According to the Ombudsman’s report released in December, Asemie has been denied citizenship because he was suspected of trafficking Pakistanis and some North Africans to Lesotho.

He denies the charges.

But sources within the home affairs ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Lesotho Times there was reasonable suspicion that Asemie was involved in some criminal activity.

They said state security agents had put Asemie under their radar for the past four years and had concluded that he was living beyond his means.

Asemie owns a coffee shop and restaurant in Maseru.

Speaking to the Lesotho Times last week, Asemie denied that he was involved in human trafficking.

“I arrived in Lesotho in 2003 as an asylum seeker and was welcomed officially by the then commissioner of refugees, Francis Sefali,” Asemie said.

“All things went well until years later when I applied for citizenship and heard that some people in the government do not see me as a refugee.”

He said he had money to start businesses in Lesotho because his parents run a prosperous enterprises in Ethiopia. He also claims he got a M600 000 loan from the Ethiopian Community Association in South Africa.

“I was a youth leader for an opposition party in Ethiopia and I had to run away because of persecution,” Asemie said.

“When I arrived in Lesotho, I told the authorities that I was not an economic refugee but a political refugee. I was running family businesses in Ethiopia and I was not going to depend on government handouts in Lesotho,” he said.

“I can explain the source of my money. I do not traffic in humans.”

Asemie said he was however startled last month when the police accused him of trafficking his own brother.

“What is surprising is that instead of protecting my brother whom they alleged I was trafficking, they locked him in their cells for three days,” he said.

It is understood the police could not communicate with Asemie’s brother, Emmanuel, because he speaks Amharic only.

“Up until now there is no evidence that I am doing anything criminal,” he said.

In a report last December, the ombudsman recommended that the home affairs ministry should arrange “a public ceremony for swearing-in of Eyob Belay Eyaya Asemie within a month from the date of this determination”.

Fanana found that Asemie arrived in Lesotho in 2003 and sought political asylum.

He was granted refugee status after a year-long screening process.

During a hearing last year, Sefali, who was the then commissioner of refugees in 2003, told Fanana that he took almost a year to verify if Asemie “was so politically involved and active to an extent that he had to flee his country” at such a
young age.

Sefali confirmed that the immigration department had opened a file for Asemie.

But the current commissioner, Mohlolo Lerotholi, is adamant that Asemie does not have a file.

He says Asemie does not have a certificate of naturalisation but holds a Lesotho passport.

Lerotholi alleges the passport was issued un-procedurally.

He alleges Asemie was given a passport because a certain ’Mapeete Molapo took a document signed by Lehohla to Passport Services Director, Sello Mokoena, for him to issue a passport to Asemie.

But Mokoeana denied the allegation telling Fanana during the hearing that Lerotholi brought Asemie to him and asked him to issue him with a passport.

It was only then that Molapo gave him “all documents needed for issuance of the said passport”.

Mokoena also said it was not Asemie alone who already had a Lesotho passport during the swearing in of foreigners in 2010.

Immigration director, Matšeliso Ramathe, told Fanana that Asemie “went through all the processes and procedures like other people who had applied for citizenship and awaited the minister’s approval”.

Ramathe said in 2010 the ministry decided to issue passports to some applicants who had applied for Lesotho citizenship before they had taken the oath as some were businessmen who needed to travel outside the country.

Police spokesperson Masupha Masupha said he was not aware of Asemie’s case.

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