Ethiopian airlines denies ethnic profiling its Tigrayan staff

Ethiopian Airlines has categorically denied ever having engaged in ethnic profiling or discriminating against its Tigrayan staff. [See full statement below]

Readers may recall that on 8th of February Eritrea Hub posted this article, which carried these claims.

Why boycott flowers carried by Ethiopian Airlines

Valentine’s Day is about love but this year we are asking you to turn away and take a stance against hate.

We ask you to boycott Ethiopian and Kenyan flowers transported by Ethiopian airlines.

So please ask before you buy: where are the flowers from and who flew them in?

War and flowers don’t mix

A vicious war erupted in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region on 4 November 2020. The Ethiopian government has waged an ugly campaign of racial profiling against Tigrayan men and women, even if they have nothing to do with the war.

Tigrayans have lost their jobs, been attacked and racially harassed.

Why Ethiopian airlines?

Ethiopian Airlines – the country’s flag carrier – has participated in this discrimination. Tigrayan employees – pilots, caterers, technicians, and security guards – have been instructed to stay at home.[1]

The New York Times reported on 12 December: “Even the C.E.O. of the national carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, who is an ethnic Tigrayan, was barred from leaving the country earlier this month, according to a pilot at the airline, and a foreign diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.”[2]

The United Nations has voiced its concerns, saying: ““There is an urgent need for independent monitoring of the human rights situation in the Tigray region, all necessary measures to protect civilians, and accountability for violations.”.[3]

Following the report I was contacted by Kagnew F. Asfaw VP of Ethiopian Airlines who assured me that this was incorrect. I have been in touch with “Hewat” who stands by her story, sharing emails with me which appear to bear out what she said (see below for the original story).

To ensure transparency I am publishing the complete email exchange – only omitting Mr Kagnew’s contact details.

Martin Plaut

Email from Ethiopian Airlines 8th February 2021

Dear Mr. Plaut,


My name is Kagnew F. Asfaw and I’m VP of Ethiopian Airlines in charge of ET Holidays and Digital Sales. Public Relations is one of the departments I’m tasked to lead.

I’m writing to you with regards to your recent twit not to buy flowers transported by Ethiopian Airlines on the grounds that Ethiopian Airlines has sacked all its Tigrayan staff.

It’s factually incorrect and I confirm on the record that Ethiopian Airlines didn’t sack any of its Tigrayan staff around the globe.

Furthermore, even those staff who are in Tigray region where our flights are suspended and/or operate at limited frequency are still on the payroll of Ethiopian Airlines.

If you please email me your telephone number, I will call to explain in detail or you are most welcome to call me at +251-911 XXXXXXXX.

Best regards,

Kagnew F. Asfaw

VP ET Holidays & Digital Sales

Reply 8th February 2021

Dear Mr Kagnew

Thank you for your email. What you say appears to run counter to a number of reputable sources, including New Humanitarian, New York Times and the BBC.

It is worth noting that when the New York Times and BBC approached Ethiopian Airlines the airline declined to comment. It is important to note that these sources did not suggest that the staff had been sacked. The action taken against them was rather more subtle. Tigrayan staff were singled out to be sent home until further notice.

If this is no longer the case and the policy has been reversed, then it would be worthwhile doing an interview. Can you confirm this? If so then I will call you tomorrow and record an interview.

Best regards

Martin Plaut

Email from Ethiopian Airlines 10th February 2021

Dear Mr. Plaut,

Thank you for your prompt reply.

There has never been such policy to single out one ethnicity at Ethiopian Airlines. You can refer to the value statement of the airline group which says “ET is an equal opportunity employer committed to diversity and fairness” and this value statement is the guiding principle of all employees and all of them carry it on the back of their visiting cards.

However; as an airline group with all airports under its ownership and management, its employees working in and around the airports are subject to aviation security vetting procedure as it is common practices in international airports in the USA and Europe and others. This international practice was conducted on some of our employees and were made to stay at home on paid leave for few days until security screening was completed by the relevant security agency. No sooner, they have all resumed their regular work. The few affected employees were from all ethnic groups and in various regions of our country.

The statement in the New York Times about the GCEO is factually incorrect. He has been leading the airline as usual with all its successes and he has been travelling abroad with no restrictions.

Best regards,

Kagnew F. Asfaw

Reply to Ethiopian Airlines, 10 February 2021

Dear Mr Kagnew

Thank you for the helpful clarification. I am happy to make this public, so that the issue can be cleared up. But before I do so I would ask you to respond to the issues raised by one of your members of staff whom I interviewed in the United States. I can assure you of her sincerity – she was in tears as I spoke to her. I have not used her real name, for obvious reasons.

Can you assure “Hewan” that she can contact yourself directly and that you can assure you that she can return to her job and will be treated fairly, like any other member of staff?

Best wishes

Martin Plaut

How Ethiopian Airlines forced a Tigrean air hostess into exile


This is a story of a woman – I will call her ‘Hewan’ – who has been deprived not only of her job, but of the country she loves.

A mother, in her early thirties, Hewan is now seeking refugee status in the USA. She has left behind her little son and a mother in her sixties. “I feel very sad. I had a life in Addis; I had my son and my family. I never thought of leaving,” Hewan says.

Hewan’s ‘crime’ is that she is a Tigrean.

Discrimination begins

It is painful to hear how the ethnic profiling of Tigreans on Ethiopian Airlines began almost as soon as Abiy Ahmed came to power on 2 April 2018.

It marked the beginning of the end of the EPRDF – a movement in which the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front had played a leading role.

“Now there’s no-one to look out for you,” Hewan was told.  Gradually the ethnic profiling of Tigreans increased.

“We no longer were given flights to Europe or the USA,” Hewan explained. “We were given short-haul destinations in Africa or the Middle East. They are more tiring as there is a rapid turn-around. And the pay is worse. There are no stop-overs or per-diem payments.”

Hewan asked – repeatedly – why this was. Her bosses were evasive, or refused to reply.

She tried to go to her union, but the union had split and a pro-company union was supposed to ‘represent’ the employees. They did nothing.

Into exile

In October last year Hewan took leave and went to see friends in America. When she was scheduled to return her leave was extended. Then she was put on indefinite, unpaid leave. The airline had, in effect, abandoned her.

Now she is staying with a friend of her brothers. They are back in Mekelle with arrest warrants out for them.

“I feel so oppressed. My friends call, but I can’t say anything to them. I am almost crying on the phone.”

Her job as a senior member of Ethiopian Airlines cabin crew has gone.

Seperated from family and the life she loved in Ethiopia, with security officers monitoring her house in Addis, there seem few options for Hewat.

Reply from Ethiopian Airlines 10 February 2021

Dear Mr. Plaut,

Yes she can contact us.

Best regards,

Kagnew F. Asfaw



  1. What Abiy and his security is doing is outrageous and non Ethiopian. I have some information, there has always been a kind of security routines at the EAL. This was mainly to screen out people who may have connection to hijackers and it was never based on Ethnicity. The security had the names they probe for. The system Abiy has is probably due to incompetence and rather rough all the way based on Ethnicity. Next time it may be the Amhara, the Oromo, the Sidamas, the Muslims, the Ortodox etc. This shows Abiy has no security system despite that he worked with it for years. It generalizes and breaks international Human rights.

  2. What Mr. Kagnew states seems to be too good to be true. Why is it then people of Tigrean origin are singly profiled in government offices, public and private corporations, including the army? Is it a common practice in security vetting procedure to surveil employees’ homes? Mr. Kagnew stop playing Mr. Schindler!

  3. Thank you Mr. Kagnew F. Asfaw for giving your big lies to the international community. It is shame trying to hide the well known your evil ethnics profiling of the Tigrayans. Please don’t hurt innocent employees twice. You are Killing them without pistol by making them jobless. You and your company are also opening your big mouth falsely for the international community as you did nothing on them. Even if I knew you are from Amhara Ethnics group, what you are saying is worthless that does not help our beloved brothers and sisters at the time being. Please if you have power in that company ,try to return to their jobs without any further issues; otherwise it is better to keep salient.

  4. Dear Mr plaut
    you are tireding for nothing Couse all the government offices are now taken false information is as norm.
    False info is spreading from the prime minister to his colougues so u will not spent much time with them.

  5. Mr. Plaut, do u have any findings about TPLF and the Tigray goverment ?
    i give some hints, which u akready know but won’t speak.

    Sabotage, Murdering and Killings
    about 1.5 Millions of ppl work on Safety net Programm for the last 30 years.
    Massakkar in Benschangul Gumur; Mai Kadra, etc…
    and so on..
    You know them good, so tell your readers what you know….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.