I read your article "Ethiopian Woman Keeping Lonely Vigil Helps Countrymen Settle in U.S." with keen interest (Metro, Aug. 1). As a member of the Ethiopian community in Los Angeles, I have watched Saba HileMaskel and other dedicated and courageous individuals being frustrated by the lack of support from federal, state and local agencies.
To say that our Ethiopian Community Center does not get funding because of the "competitive bidding system for federal money" may mislead your readers into thinking that there are fewer Ethiopian refugees than there actually are. The question is why only 50 Ethiopian refugees were accepted into the United States between October, 1987, and June, 1988, while 7,800 Armenians and 1,200 Iranians were resettled in Los Angeles during the same period? The answer can be found in U.S. immigration policy toward African immigrants-refugees.
In 1985 the United Nations estimated that there were over 10 million refugees in the world and that more than half were from Africa. The lion's share of those Africans came from Ethiopia.
Since the Nationality Origin Act was amended in 1965, thousands of Asians and Latin Americans have immigrated to the U.S. But only a tiny fraction of black Africans were allowed to enter.
An analysis of U.S. immigration in the October, 1983, issue of Ebony magazine pointed out that "of the more than 49 million persons who immigrated to the U.S. between 1820 and 1979, 36 million came from Europe while only 143,271 came from Africa." Because of these restrictions and the funding policies directly tied to the number of immigrants, the few Ethiopian community centers that are established are suffering. Unlike Armenian, Iranian, Asian and Cuban refugees, Ethiopians benefit from no U.S. government-sponsored resettlement program.
Those refugees who came fleeing the violence caused by famine and war have no psychological counseling and few community centers to create a sense of belonging. Desperation has driven some Ethiopians to Skid Row, and suicide and homicide show upward trends.
Ethiopian refugees are caught in a vicious immigration cycle. Even though more than 4 million of us are recognized as refugees worldwide, we are not being allowed to enter the U.S. in significant numbers. And because our numbers are small, our community programs are not being funded. Saving lives should not depend on numbers.