Oct 30 , 2021

Ethiopian citizens abroad are in a precarious situation following disarray at diplomatic missions resulting from the administration's overhaul in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The missions witness significant disruptions as all diplomats – except for ambassadors - have been called back to Addis Abeba to attend reorientation seminars. A series of these seminars have been ongoing at the Africa Leadership Academy in Sululta and at the Ministry's head office. The diplomats are awaiting redeployment, with those who had served less than one year and longer than three years abroad are to stay back. Some of the diplomats who were called back did not return, leaving those who had gone through the reorientation for reassignments.

Almost half of the country's 60 missions are being closed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to cut back on foreign currency expenditures. The Ministry operates with a budget of 3.7 billion Br this year, close to a billion Birr more than last year. Dina Mufti, a spokesperson for the Ministry, called the retrenchment a "right-sizing" and not downsizing as it is perceived.

The retrenchment in the missions abroad and the reshuffling has been all but smooth for Ethiopian citizens residing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), particularly in Dubai.

Wassihun Bitew moved to the Middle Eastern country four years ago with three friends. All of them have seen their passports expire recently, and repeated visits to the consulate in Dubai for renewals have proved vain. Almost all the missions are running on a skeletal staff, interrupting consular services.

“There are only security personnel handing out renewed passports from previous applications,” Wassihun told Fortune.

The renewal fee was 600 dirhams, close to 8,000 Br at official exchange rates, compared to 600 Br at home.

However, the fee is the least of Wassihun's worries as the expired passports come at a great cost for him and his friends. It entails the expiration of their visas, which makes them liable for penalties and fines, adding up to 25 dirhams (320 Br) a day, on top of 125 dirhams on the day of expiration. The amount of the fine doubles if they fail to renew their passports within six months and exceeds 100 dirhams (1,300 Br) a day in a year.

"It would be impossible for us to live like this," says Wassihun.

Dina acknowledged that some of the consulate services had been disrupted due to the ongoing reform. He attributed the interruption to the scale of the overhaul.

“Things don't go smoothly when moving to a new house,” Dina said at a press briefing last week.

Ermias Zerihun works as a taxi driver in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The Ethiopian Consulate there is not doing much more than delivering renewed passports to those who had applied for renewal prior to the call back of diplomats. Women working as housemaids, he believes, are suffering most from the predicament.

"Most haven't been working much since COVID-19," Ermias said. "The least the embassy could do was to spare them from the penalties."

PUBLISHED ON Oct 30,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1122]

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