Feyisa Lilesa's Family Somehow Made It To The United States

Feyisa Lilesa's Family Somehow Made It To The United States
Photo: (Twitter, AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa was reunited with his Ethiopian family in Miami yesterday, Lilesa told SB Nation.

Lilesa has been living in the United States since September after he raised his arms in an "X" during his runner-up finish in the Rio Olympic marathon. The protest gesture was meant to draw attention to the treatment of the Oromo people in Ethiopia. After the race, Lilesa said that Ethiopian government would kill him if he returned. Lilesa has been training in Arizona and New Mexico in recent months.


Lilesa was greeted at the Miami airport by his wife Iftu Mulisa, his daughter, Soko Feyisa Lilesa, and son, Sora Feyisa Lilesa. He mentioned the family was unsure whether or not they would be allowed entry into the country due to President Trump's recent travel ban. In addition to banning all travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days, Trump's travel ban also suspended all refugee admittance for 120 days. (Lilesa's family, who was facing ethnic and political persecution, would seem to fit under the definition of refugees.) Trump's executive order, however, was blocked in federal court last week.

"The day I left my country is the day I gave up my rights," Lilesa told SB Nation. "This is not my country. Donald Trump was elected through a process and he's ultimately here to decide what he wants to do about his country and he is in charge. But, I do think it's unfair to separate people based on their religion and it's good to understand that people come to this country, refugees and immigrants, because they have problems like I did in my own country."


Lilesa issued this full statement on his family's return:

First, I want to thank Waaqa (God) for reuniting me with my family. I also am grateful to the US consular staff at the embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Second, I would like to thank my family for their patience and understanding during more than six months of my absence. And my friends and everyone who supported us during this time.
I am really happy to see my family. But I am also filled with mixed emotions.

That's because it's always been my wish to live in my country, with my entire family, and among my people.

In fact, I have never imagined I would be exiled from my country and be separated from my people.

Regardless of whether I had enough to eat or I went hungry, whether I had a pair of cloth or not, in times of happiness and sorrow, it was my wish to live among my great people - who raised me with a sense of Oromumma (Oromo identity) and who taught me about love, respect, history and courage.

But despite my physical safety here in the US and now a family reunion, the Ethiopian government's ongoing abuse of the Oromo people gives me no rest.

No one builds a family with the intention of going into exile. Instead to live in one's own country and ensure familial continuity.

Unfortunately, exile, however dreadful, has become my fate and the fate of many Oromos.

As I celebrate this small personal victory, I want to make sure that we don't forget the plight of millions of Oromo and other Ethiopians who are still being killed, beaten, imprisoned, dispossessed and kept in poverty.

Toward that end, I renew my call to the US government and the international community to re-evaluate their foreign aid and other dealings with the Ethiopian government in light of the worsening human rights situation in the country. I urge them to stand with the Oromo and all oppressed nations in Ethiopia.

The struggle continues. The Oromo people will win their freedom. Until victory is achieved and justice is served for those who shed their blood in the merciless killings, I will continue to resist and stand with my people. My commitment to this cause is not simply raising my crossed wrists over my head after every race. I am prepared to do all it takes to help my people win their freedom.

I will continue to speak out against injustice and its perpetrators using my platform. My biggest wish is to see the freedom of my people - all people, in every country.

Thank you!

Feyisa Lilesa Gemechu

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