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NewsItalian textile firm in Tigray remains idle as execs denied entry by...

Italian textile firm in Tigray remains idle as execs denied entry by Immigration

ITACA shuttered operations due to war

An Italian textile manufacturer’s efforts to restart operations at its plant in Tigray face serious setbacks as the firm’s country manager and foreign experts see their requests for re-entry denied by Ethiopian immigration officials.

ITACA Textile Plc, part of the Italian apparel giant Calzedonia Group, inaugurated a textile factory in Ashegoda, near Mekelle, five years ago with an investment of USD 15 million. The firm and 1,000 of its employees reportedly generated close to USD 800,000 a month in manufacturing exports before war broke out in November 2020.

The textile plant’s manager and two of the company’s foreign experts made a quick exit from the country as violence erupted in Tigray, and ITACA subsequently ceased all operations.

“They were told to hurry up and leave the country during the war,” said Mehari Gebremichael, deputy head of the Trade Bureau under the Tigray Interim Administration. “For obvious reasons, they were unable to return for the last three years.”

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Mehari disclosed their work and resident permits have expired.

“Now that the dust from the conflict has settled, they have been trying for months to come back and revamp operations,” he said.

However, a months-long back and forth with officials at the Immigration and Citizenship Services (ICS) remains unsettled, and neither the country director nor the experts have been granted entry into Ethiopia, according to Mehari.

The Tigray Trade Bureau repeatedly appealed to the Ministry of Trade, before officials at the latter consented to write a letter to the ICS requesting the ITACA employees be granted their work and residency permits.

It has been two months since the Ministry submitted the letter, according to Mehari.

Meanwhile, 300 newly-trained ITACA employees have no choice but to sit back with folded arms and wait for a response from immigration officials.

Mehari says ITACA has not filed any claims for compensation for damages incurred during the war.

“During this bureaucratic ordeal, [the manager and experts] were told they would have to pay a USD 5,000 fine,” he told The Reporter.

He questions the reasoning behind levying fines on investors that were forced to leave the country due to circumstances outside of their control, especially given the country’s forex woes.

“We say we need forex more than ever while closing the door on those who could quickly solve the scarcity,” said Mehari.

Immigration officials, however, say that ITACA is not an exception to the rules.

Selamawit Dawit, director-general of ICS, disclosed her agency cannot process the permit applications until an audit on manufacturers like ITACA by the Ethiopian Investment Commission is finalized.

She revealed that there are three manufacturers (including ITACA) who closed their doors during the war and want to resume production now.

Selamawit says ITACA’s foreign employee permit applications did not fulfill basic requirements such as holding renewed trade and investment permits as well as labor ID.

“These are standard requirements that have to be met in all similar cases,” she told The Reporter.

Mehari argues this is a farcical argument.

“How can they renew the permits if they’re not allowed to enter the country?” he asked.

Berhe Sharew, head of human resources at ITACA, declined to comment on the issue. He did, however, tell The Reporter the company’s country director would soon release a statement on issues related to the factory’s resumption of operations.

Mehari wants to see a technical assessment of the ITACA plant’s electricity and telecom service lines, as well as its machinery and equipment, conducted.

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