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Midst of coronavirus, Ethiopian students cry for help

Midst of coronavirus, Ethiopian students cry for help

There are now hundreds of African students stranded and under lockdown in Wuhan, in China and face the risks associated with corona-virus epidemic with little support afforded to them from their home nation. Among them are Ethiopian students who say, among other things, they are facing shortages of food and resources, lack of information and constant worries and point fingers at the Ethiopian government, as well as its embassy and consulate in China of doing little to help them, as they risk being exposed to a disease that have so far killed more than 700 people.

"I don't think they have any plan to evacuate us. We tried our best. We did a lot of interviews even parents went to the embassy to get some answers but they told them they have full confidence in the Chinese government so at this point, its all up to God”, a student wrote to her family from Wuhan as the crises progresses to desperation in what has become ghost-like city.

Soliana Aregawi, studying mandarin after completing her degree earlier this year, shared the uniform like sentiment and the student’s frustration in a widely read Twitter posting re-tweeted 188 times earlier this week, but there have been little success. She was also approached by international media to tell her story.

I am a student in wuhan. We’ve been on lock down for nearly 11 days now. Z union that I am a member of has been trying to do its best in terms of providing information such as hotline numbers for multiple purposes, collecting students' info email to our embassy on Jan 30 regarding the students’s concern yet we haven’t received any reply from the embassy regarding evacuation”, she wrote on February 2nd escalating a worsening situation faced by the students, most on a generous scholarship granted by China.

“Genuinely speaking students here have been very patient, resilient and supportive to one another. I hope the embassy has considered the severity of the situation here and would like to help them ASAP”.

She hopes to fly to Addis Ababa on her own resources once the Wuhan airport reopens. But she is worried for her friends who face worsening conditions and circumstances.

However, it is business as usual at Ethiopian Airlines.

It has so far defied the assumptions of other airlines along with Emirates and continues to fly its commercial airplanes – partially as an endorsement to the partnership China has provided to Ethiopia in the last decade by way of building needed infrastructures and guaranteed loans – some students hope some of the planes would be diverted to help evacuate them, as many nations have done this week, including those from Egypt, Morocco and Libya along with those from western nations.

That seems to be a far fetched dream.

“Ethiopian operates many international flights and suspending flights only to China won’t be an immunity to prevent the spread of the disease, Tewelde GebreMariam told Fana this week. “The only solution is to make the necessary care for passengers and staff”.

He did not say if Ethiopian would provide students discounted rate to fly them home should they fine their own way and find themselves in the cities the airline flies to, including Beijing.

Yesterday, the Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI) declared there would be new measures taken to control the spread of the disease in Ethiopia. One way would be to quarantine all passengers coming from Wuhan to Ethiopia and send their blood samples to be examined to South Africa.

So far, most of the blood taken to South Africa has come negative while some are still pending.

That is a relief to Lia Tadesse, the State Minister of Health, who has been up to speed on the case and has frequently updated her followers on social media.

“We just received the results of the 4 suspected cases for the novel Corona virus and they are all negative. There’re NO confirmed cases in Ethiopia”, she declared as the latest results became known from South Africa.

The Reporter reached out to the minister and was instead directed to Ebba Tadesse (MD), the Director General of the Ethiopian Public Health Institute, asking if there is any evacuation pending for the students.

“Those kinds of decision rest with the government. We simply implement the decision made,” he said.

On a second try on reaction to what Ebba said, Minister Lia directed The Reporter to Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry.

“It’s under discussion. MoFA is leading this. So it’s good to ask them”, she told The Reporter.

“I can assure you, the consulate in China is constantly engaged with the students and looking at the most viable solution to them. Our diplomats are also members of the we-chat and they are talking to the students. But at the moment, there is nothing more I can tell you,” Nebiat Getachew, the spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry told The Reporter.

Several students The Reporter spoke to said that is not true, including Soliana.

Several of the students The Reporter spoke to, there has been little communication between them and the embassy or the Ethiopian diplomats. The first was a week ago, when the embassy sent a message, urging them to be careful and one that came yesterday, telling them a decision on their case is forthcoming. They also confirmed, there is indeed one person from the embassy on their union’s managed we-chat but they say, he has not been much help to them, except that he plays an observer role, reading their communication without any written or verbal communication with them.

"In addition, food prices have spiked nearly ten folds and can not leave their dorms to buy food, but when even they do, the shops are running out of stock," another student told The Reporter.   

Soliana hopes a final favorable decision would be made soon and there will be better communication between student leaders and the Ethiopian diplomats.

“The heads of the union are the ones trying to handle the situation and calm everyone but it is becoming challenging for them as well because they can not give answers to students they themselves do not have”, she said. “They recently contacted the head of the (Ethiopian Student) union. But they have not answered the questions raised. They were told they will soon make a decision”.