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From a war torn country find out how Ethiopians are now a new, emerging and well-integrated community in London. These proud and strong people made their mark on the capital towards the end of the last century, and continue to do so now.
Many Ethiopians were forced to seek asylum in the UK.
Today there are around 20,000 Ethiopian people living in the UK, with roughly 84% based in London.
Haile Selassie old palace, in ruins
From 1974 particular groups of Ethiopian people were forced to flee the bloody warfare of their country when Haile Selassie’s government was overthrown by the military junta, Derg. Many of the political refugees left behind professional careers, chiefly in higher education.
Ethiopia also lost members of the legal and medical profession. In 1991, a new wave of refugees emerged from Ethiopia when civil war erupted again and because of the continuing political unrest in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopians are still having to leave their country in search of asylum.
Ethiopia Guerillas during the war
They have fled to the UK, many alone without their families. Some Ethiopian refugees who settled in London found the cultural adjustment very difficult. The co-ordinator of the Ethiopian Community Centre in Britain gave the following example of confusion, "They [refugees] have no way of knowing that a British policeman is not a sight to fear".
Gradually, and with the help of support centres, Ethiopians in London have managed to rebuild their lives. When they arrive here, there is initially a six-month wait until they find out whether or not they are granted permission from the Home Office to remain temporarily in the country.
Prior to the civil wars, Ethiopians moved freely between their homeland and the UK to study here and then return to take up their careers under a progressive government. Those former students are undoubtedly amongst the thousands who now form an ageing population here. A new and emerging, well-integrated Ethiopian community is living in north London as well as in west and south London.
The fact that many Ethiopians are now well established in London is reflected by the purchase of a church in Battersea Park to cater for Ethiopians, who tend to be orthodox Christians. St Mary's Ethiopian Orthodox Church has services every Sunday and often on Saturdays too.
There has also been a growth in Ethiopian restaurants. There Londoners enjoy 'injera', an unleavened bread with a distinctive flavour. It is usually eaten in the manner typical of the Horn of Africa, with different dishes placed onto the bread, which is then broken off and eaten with fingers.
Birhan Woldu in 2005, famine survivor from 1985.
Of course for many, it is the lack of food in Ethiopia which has been a preoccupation, but Birhan Woldu has come to symbolise hope and what can be achieved to fight hunger when different cultures work together in harmony.
When Birhan was a 3 year old in Ethiopia, she came to prominence in the international media when she was found as she lay dying during the famine in 1984, by a CBC documentary crew. In 2005 Bob Geldof introduced Woldu at the Live 8 Concert in London, where she expressed her gratitude to the global audience for their support. Woldu was then joined by Madonna and remained with her during the first part of Madonna’s performance.
Bob Geldof, describes Woldu as "proof that we can make a difference". Tony Blair has praised her as "a beacon of hope and an inspiration to millions".
last updated: 16/05/2008 at 17:04