Ethiopian immigrants from the Christian, Orthodox, Protestant and Muslim faiths all gathered April 28 in Toronto’s Dundas Square to appeal to Canadians and the international community to do more to protect Ethiopian migrants in Yemen and South Africa. Photo by Michael Swan

Toronto's Ethiopians rally against Islamic State brutality

  • April 30, 2015

TORONTO - Close to 1,000 Ethiopian immigrants — a mix of Orthodox, Protestant and Muslim — gathered in the late afternoon and evening of April 28 in Dundas Square to mourn together the death of two Ethiopian migrant workers murdered April 19 in Libya by Islamic State militants.

The Ethiopians also came to appeal to Canadians and the international community to do more to protect vulnerable Ethiopian migrants under attack in Yemen and South Africa and subject to grave risks as they try to reach Europe in rusted, leaky boats crossing the Mediterranean.

“The most frightening situation is in Libya because there are a lot of Ethiopians, migrant Ethiopians, hoping to cross to Europe,” Ethiopian Association of Toronto president Abebe Worku said. “We’re afraid. They are waiting for another round of beheadings.”

Eyasu Yikunoamlak and Balcha Belete were in Libya waiting for a boat to carry them on the illegal journey to Italy — a passage they paid more than $4,000 to make. They wound up being two of more than 30 people shot or beheaded April 19 by the ISIS militants — a group that included Ethiopians and Eritreans, many of them still unidentified.

The killings in Libya come in the context of a variety of attacks on Ethiopian migrants — xenophobic riots in South Africa, round-ups of foreigners by the military in Yemen and drownings in the Mediterranean.

While the Ethiopian community is glad to see Ottawa take a strong stand against the Islamic State both in Syria and Iraq, the problem can’t be solved militarily, Worku said.

“We know that the problem is more complicated,” he said. “We also believe that force leads to force. Sometimes, if the situation requires it, maybe you have to use force. But we don’t believe force will be a permanent solution.”

The Dundas Square rally united the often divided Ethiopian expatriate community in Toronto, with protesters there from the Ethiopian Evangelical Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox and Ethiopian Muslims. Worku was keen to stress the Muslim support, even as a bystander ranted about a conspiracy of all Muslims against Christians.

“We feel so in pain. We are in pain,” said Sara Solomon, an Eritrean born in Ethiopia. “They have to do something about ISIS.”

“We are here to be the voice for those whose vocal chords were slashed,” said TTC driver Samson Shekool.

The real solution for the Christians of north Africa and for the Muslims is democracy, said Shekool.

“Democracy is sweet, of course it is,” he said.

The Ethiopians have been in touch with the Coptic community in Toronto, who suffered the loss on Feb. 12 of 21 Egyptian Christians who had found work in Libya. Islamic State militants claimed they beheaded the Egyptians to "avenge the (alleged) kidnapping of Muslim women by the Egyptian Coptic Church."

Worku would like to see closer ties to between Toronto’s Catholics and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

“We try to act in unison. It’s not easy but we can co-operate and we have to co-operate,” he said.

The immigrant community is unused to protest and struggled to come up with an English slogan everybody could chant, until one of the women from the Evangelical Church began to shout, “Jesus is Love! Jesus is Lord!” Soon the crowd was shouting “Shame to ISIS” and “Stop killing innocent people!”

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