An Ethiopian man who was granted asylum in Northern Ireland after enduring torture and enforced labour before risking his life to reach Europe on a dinghy will represent his adopted country when he races against Sir Mo Farah in August.
Eskander Turki, 29, has a “dream life” in Belfast, where he met his wife, chef Amina Ahmed, 25, in the summer of 2021 and works as an ice cream maker, as he honing his prowess at 5km and 10km.
It is a sharp contrast to life in Ethiopia, where he was imprisoned for six months in 2010 in an underground cell for attending a protest while studying electrical engineering at college and claims he was “tortured, burned and beaten”.
Turki ran for an hour in total darkness the night the military burned down his family home. His mother had told him to run to her brother’s house to find refuge: the military had already come in the night and killed his father and his brother, and he was likely to be in similar danger. That night, the military forced his mother to sign over ownership of their family farm to the state.
Eskander had been imprisoned for four months in an underground prison in Ethiopia without his family’s knowledge, almost one hundred miles away from their farmstead in Dima. Dima is in the Ethiopian regional state of Oromia, the homeland of the Oromo people: a large minority ethnic group who have been subject to political oppression, cultural suppression and the victims of internment and state violence.
He had been taking part in a student protest at the technical college where he was studying electrical engineering, carrying a placard that read Stop Killing Oromo People, when the military arrived and opened fire on the protest group. Between forty and fifty of the students were arrested and taken to a military camp.
From there, he was sent to the underground prison where he was beaten with sticks, cut with knives and tortured with hot metal bars. His body is still marked with the scars from this torture. All of this happened in 2010, and the following year, after he’d lived in hiding with his uncle for five months, his mother sold her possessions to raise funds for Eskander to escape Ethiopia to the relative safety of South Sudan.
In April 2011 he left Ethiopia. This was only the beginning of a decade of turmoil that saw the teenage college student progress through his twenties working for two years without pay on a building site in Sudan, imprisoned in Libya by people smugglers, crossing the Mediterranean in a plastic dinghy, being subjected to a brutal assault by a group of men in Italy, living in a bus station near Milan and spending time in Direct Provision in Monaghan before finally boarding a bus to seek a new life of safety in Belfast in April 2019. He claimed asylum, but refugee status and the stability that comes with it has not yet been granted.