Australia (News.com.au) — The circumstances that conspired against the Olympic silver medallist and his young family are shameful to read.
Not many would have bet on this reunion ever taking place. But it did.
He fought Ethiopian tribal purging, government officials and even US President Donald Trump to make this happen.
The 27-year-old has spoken about the long overdue reconnection with his wife and children after five months of fear, uncertainty and disappointment.
“I do want to see my family,” he told sbnation.com through an interpreter.
“It has been a while. I do have some concerns. I don’t want them to give me or my family special treatment. I’m sure they have reasons why they are putting this ban in place. But, I’m hoping nothing happens to them and we are reunited.”
To understand the emotion of the reunion you have to go back to the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Lilesa famously raised his arms and crossed his wrists to form an X as he crossed the line of the men’s marathon, winning the silver medal.
According to reports more than 400 Oromo were killed between November 2015 and last year’s Games.
“My relatives are in prison, and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed.”
“If I go back to Ethiopia, maybe they will kill me. If not kill me, they will put me in prison. I have not decided yet, but maybe I will move to another country,” he said.
He moved to town called Flagstaff in Arizona, USA, under a special O-1 visa because of his status as an star athlete.
He never expected the fight that came next. The attempt to get his family into the United States appeared torpedoed when President Trump signed his executive order travel ban last month.
Even the recent string of court orders overriding President Trump’s order was no guarantee Lilesa’s wife Iftu Mulisa, his five-year old daughter, Soko Feyisa Lilesa and three-year old son, Sora Feyisa Lilesa would be admitted through customs on Wednesday (AEDT)
He never asked for special treatment and never received it.
“I do think he is targeting a certain group of people due to their belief system,” he said.
“That is wrong. The day I left my country is the day I gave up my rights. This is not my country. Donald Trump was elected through a process and he’s ultimately here to decide what he wants to do about his country and he is in charge. But, I do think it’s unfair to separate people based on their religion and it’s good to understand that people come to this country, refugees and immigrants, because they have problems like I did in my own country.”
It’s what makes this Valentine’s Day family reunion so special.
As special as it is, Lilesa desperately wants you to know this is not the end of the story. He has mixed emotions about celebrating the safety of his family while his Oromo people continue to be persecuted in Ethiopia.
“I want to make sure that we don’t forget the plight of millions of Oromo and other Ethiopians who are still being killed, beaten, imprisoned, dispossessed and kept in poverty.
“I will continue to speak out against injustice and its perpetrators. My biggest wish is to see the freedom of my people — all people, in every country.”
He released a full statement through his interpreter.