Zenebu fled after her husband was killed

THIS week is Refugee Week, which aims to dispel some of the myths about people who come to Britain seeking asylum. BARRY GIBSON speaks to Zenebu Hailu, who escaped torture and imprisonment in Ethiopia to make a new life in Huddersfield

ZENEBU Hailu was something of a novelty when she arrived in Huddersfield in 1999.

“I was the only Ethiopian in Huddersfield, but after a while more people started to come,” she said.

The 48-year-old, a student development officer at Huddersfield Technical College, lives in Fartown with her 16-year-old son while her daughter studies science at Huddersfield University.

But her settled life here is a far cry from her experience in Ethiopia, where she faced oppression because of her membership of the opposition Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party.

Zenebu’s husband and brother were murdered by the military in the same week in 1985. She was imprisoned and tortured for nine months.

Zenebu was also active in an underground women’s group.

She said: “I campaigned against women being forced into marriage at the age of 12.

“Women in Ethiopia are really oppressed and don’t have any rights. We have never been recognised as human beings.”

Zenebu is from Bahir-Dar, on the shores of Lake Tana in northern Ethiopia. She was working as chief librarian at the city’s university when she came to England on an exchange programme in 1999.

While working as a librarian at Huddersfield University the political situation at home got worse and Zenebu was granted asylum in the UK.

And she has no plans to return to Africa. Zenebu said: “Ethiopia is still not a stable country; 99% of people live in poverty. The government claims it is democratic, but that is theoretical rather than practical.”

At first Zenebu found it difficult being so far from home.

She said: “It was really challenging. There are a lot of problems when you’re away from your family and you can’t go back to your homeland.”

But she found support in the town.

Zenebu said: “The Technical College recognised my Ethiopian qualification and gave me a job.

“I’ve also got a lot of help from Holy Trinity Church. Huddersfield people are very, very friendly and welcoming.”

Zenebu also works as a volunteer for the Cultures United group based at St Patrick’s Centre on Trinity Street and Kirklees Refugees And Friends Together on Manchester Road.

She said: “I’ve benefited from this society and government so I want to give something back.”

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