Families of Missing University Students Feeling Desperate As Universities Closed Amid Covid-19, No Disclosure from The Government


Families of missing Amhara students are feeling desperate and helpless as their children disappeared for three months, Amnesty International reports. Their children ‘remain unaccounted’ while others return home following government closed universities amid coronavirus.


In November 2019 ‘unidentified group’ had abducted 17 students of Dembi Dollo University while fleeing home in fear of ethnic violence, and they have been missing since. The government remained silent on the issue since February 2020, when deputy prime minister Demeke Mekonen had disclosed that a task force is working on rescuing the students and returning them safely to their homes.


“…we don’t know where they are or whether they are alive. We have been mourning since the day she told us she had been abducted,” a father whose daughter is kidnapped told Amnesty. He added, “… her mother is devastated and (is going) crazy, and not a word from the government.”


It took a month or more for the government to react to the issue after it caused a social media outrage. In January, the prime minister’s office announced that 21 students were released while six left missing. The press secretary of the office gave the number that conflicted with that of the girl who escaped from the captives. Additionally, none of the families have heard about the release of any student.


The inconsistent information from government officials ignites social media campaign, #BringBackOurStudents exerted pressure on the authorities. Prime minister Abiy met with the families a month ago to give assurance that their children are alive.


Also, the shutdown of all communication services in western Oromia, where the students were abducted, caused more complexity for families to access information about them. The international human rights community had been urging the government to restore communication for the past two months. Besides information about the captives, the shutdown caused hardship to access the Covid-19 pandemic situation in the area. Whereas, the government said that communications closed because of security risk.


The subject of coronavirus spread reduced attention to the missing students, escalating the agony to the families. “The sense of fear and uncertainty spreading across Ethiopia because of COVID-19 is exacerbating the anguish of these students’ families, who are desperate for information on the whereabouts of their loved ones four months after they were abducted,” said Seif Magango, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa.


Universities in Ethiopia had closed as a measure to reduce the spread of coronavirus in the country. Students are being returned to their families except for the missing ones. Amnesty International urged authorities to “disclose measures they have taken to rescue 17 Dembi Dolo University students.”