Ethiopian Photojournalist Shares Experiences of Going Into Exile

For World Refugee Day, exiled Ethiopian photojournalist Aziza Mohamed spoke with CPJ Journalist Assistance Program Coordinator Nicole Schilit about her experience of being a refugee and eventually being resettled in the U.S.

[This transcript of Aziza's comments has been edited for length and clarity.]

My name is Aziza Mohamed. I started working as a photojournalist and reporter in 2011, for Addis Guday. I was arrested on July 18, 2014 while photographing a protest in Addis Ababa. I was released after almost a month in jail.

When I was released from prison, nobody wanted to be seen with me. Even journalists, friends...they were all are scared to meet me. And it was impossible to get [a] job. Also, Ethiopian security was following me physically and electronically.

That time was very difficult for me. That is why I left. I could not work as a photojournalist without risking being arrested again.

When I had to leave Ethiopia, I was only thinking about collecting my belongings and getting to a safe place, together with people I knew.

The hardest part about life in Nairobi was living without work, it is difficult economically and it psychologically affects you. Living in a place where you cannot work and you can't move freely, feels the same as being in a prison.

For me, relocating to Nairobi was like moving from one prison to another. I was so scared to move without proper papers or a passport.

My process with UNHCR [the UN refugee agency] was very fast. The reason my case was accepted was because of the news published by CPJ when I was in prison in July 2014.

After six months I was told I would receive resettlement. But then my case was stuck for one year with USCIS [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services]. After two years I arrived in the U.S., it was October 25, 2016.

After my orientation in Nairobi my expectations for the U.S. were very low. But now, after a year, day by day, I started to believe in the opportunity I have in Pittsburgh.

The most difficult thing about living in the U.S. is that it takes a long time to get back to your profession. In Ethiopia, I was working only at what I love. Here I am working at what earns me money. It is not easy to focus on work that you love to do here.

In my country, OK, I am a journalist. But when I say that...I am ready to work anything, any jobs now. I am pregnant now and I am happy to raise my child in any safe place. It's a right time for me now.

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