Tamiru Kefeyalew protested against the oppressive Ethiopian government by crossing his arms above his head as he finished second in the 1,500 meters at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics.
By Mauricio Savarese and Elias Meseret (AP) |
SAO PAULO— Tamiru Kefeyalew’s life changed for the worse when he won Ethiopia’s only medal of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics.
For the last two years he has lived as a refugee in Brazil, first in a camp, then a church, then a shelter for the homeless. He now sleeps on a mattress on the floor of a shared dormitory-like room, his meager possessions — including his Paralympic silver medal — stuffed into a small wardrobe.
Yet still he refuses to return home.
Tamiru Kefeyalew protested against the oppressive Ethiopian government of then-Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn by crossing his arms above his head as he finished second in the 1,500 meters for visually impaired competitors in Rio. He was repeating the famous protest made by Feyisa Lilesa when he won silver in the marathon at the Olympics a few weeks earlier.
Feyisa returned home a hero after two years in exile. Tamiru has turned his back on his country, probably for good.
He’s wary of returning home after such a public act of defiance but also confident Brazil can offer him a better life and career. His friend and Ethiopian teammate Magersa Tasisa, another visually impaired runner, stayed with him in Brazil.
Yet while Ethiopia found new freedoms this year under reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Tamiru and Magersa found hardship in Brazil.
The 25-year-old Tamiru Kefeyalew said he feels stuck without citizenship in Brazil, the country he now wants to adopt. He cannot work to pay his bills because Brazilian legislation doesn’t allow it and he has relied on a Sao Paulo attorney’s offer to represent him for free in his quest for citizenship. The process could take four years. He can speak some Portuguese and English but communication with locals is usually problematic.
Tamiru Kefeyalew struggles to focus on training because he has no idea when he will compete again. Despite the improving situation in Ethiopia, he still believes he must stay in Brazil to have a chance of success at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo and beyond.
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