The Greeks of Ethiopia remain calm but on alert should evacuation be necessary as the armed conflict in the northern region of the country continues to rage, as it has for more than a year.
In early November the Foreign Ministry of Greece issued an advisory for Greeks residing in or traveling to Ethiopia as a six-month state of emergency was declared in the country.
“The security situation is considered fragile and the conflict may spread to other regions. Hence, Greek citizens wishing to travel to Ethiopia are advised to postpone their trip for the time being. Greeks living in Ethiopia are encouraged to be vigilant and to follow developments in the country, to have adequate food, water and fuel, to limit their travel outside the cities which they live in (including Addis Ababa),” the Greek ministry advisory said.
Until now, although the Addis Ababa international airport is open and flights to Greece are available, there has been no panic regarding returning to the homeland.
The conflict in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia has now been going on for more than a year. While major fighting has been between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopian government forces, armed groups from neighboring Eritrea have also been involved.
Both the TPLF and federal government forces have been accused by the United Nations of human rights violations, including systematic ethnically-based rape and massacres. Concern has recently turned to the risk of starvation for hundreds of thousands of people cut off from supplies.
Greek Reporter reached out to members of the Greek community in the African nation to learn how they are faring and if they are making plans to re-patriate should the armed conflict escalate.
The Hellenic Leadership Council Ethiopia said in a mail message that “there is no issue” regarding the safety of the Greek community at least in the capital, Addis Ababa, where the vast majority of Greeks live. The Council noted, however, it has no clear view of Greeks who are living in other areas. In any case, it noted that the security situation in Ethiopia “will soon improve.”
Greeks in Ethiopia “used to violence and unrest”
Antonis Chaldeos, a historian and writer on issues of the Greek diaspora, specifically on Hellenism in Africa, told Greek Reporter that through his contacts with Greeks in the country there seems no reason for alarm.
The historian said that “Only the UK and Greece have issued advisories for Ethiopia. For the Greeks that inhabit the southwest is not critical. After centuries of surviving and thriving in Ethiopia, the Greeks there have learned to remain calm even through riots and violence.”
In 2018, Chaldeos published “The Greek Presence in the Horn of Africa, (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia).” He studied Social Anthropology and History and he holds a Ph.D in history from the University of Johannesburg.
According to Chaldeos, “Greeks have been present in Ethiopia since the 1880s. Violence and unrest are not peculiar for them. They initially immigrated to work as laborers as Ethiopia developed its railroad.”
Following the migration of Greek laborers to Ethiopia, the coffee traders followed for investment. Ethiopia is famous for being the birthplace of coffee. It is said that the country’s nomadic mountain tribes were the first to discover its stimulating effect.
Ethiopia is a landlocked nation on the African continent’s western border, parallel to the Red Sea and surrounded by Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and Kenya. It has a population of 110 million people.
Situated in the Horn of Africa, the Greek community in Ethiopia today numbers about 500 individuals that hold Greek passports; however, there could be ten times that amount of Greek descendants, according to Chaldeos. The Greek communities are located in the capital, Addis Ababa and the city of Dire Dawa.
In 1910, the Greek community was the most populous of all Addis Ababa’s foreign groups, with 334 people, mainly from the Aegean, Ionian Islands and Cyprus. The first community association was founded there in 1918.