In Egypt, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been the target of bitter criticism and even violent protests this year.
Protests at the agency’s Cairo headquarters – including one man setting himself on fire – have been led by Oromos, the single biggest ethnic group in Ethiopia.
The Oromos say the UNHCR – which by agreement with the Egyptian government has responsibility for determining asylum applications in Egypt – has routinely rejected their asylum claims.
The Oromos claim the UN agency has been hostile to their allegations of discrimination, persecution, and even torture by the government of Ethiopia. Protests and a government crackdown in Ethiopia have left 140 (the government estimate) or 314 (Human Rights Watch) dead since July and pushed thousands of people to flee the country.
The UNHCR said the criticism is unfounded. It conceded there had been delays in processing applications but said those were caused by a shortage of resources.
It was “absolutely not true to say we reject everyone,” said Tariq Argaz, a UNHCR spokesman.
Nevertheless, an increasing number of Oromos in Cairo have tried to get to Europe this year. Almost half of the estimated 150 Ethiopians who drowned in a sinking on April 9 joined the voyage straight from the UNHCR protest, according to relatives and survivors, who said the UN agency effectively pushed them to risk the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.
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- UN to Resettle Thousands of Refugees in Ethiopia to 3rd Country
- UNHCR, Kenya & Somalia Sign Agreement to Repatriate Somali Refugees