A representative for US Customs and Border Protection confirmed that two Ethiopian Airlines maintenance personnel hid in a ceiling hole above the passenger compartment of a commercial airliner in order to flee Ethiopia and seek refuge in the United States.
After clambering into a tiny void space in the ceiling of a Boeing 777 passenger jet and surviving a 36-hour voyage from Addis Ababa, the two men applied for asylum on December 1.
The airliner landed in Washington, DC, but not before passing through Lagos, Nigeria, and Dublin, Ireland on its way there.
According to a CNN source, the individuals gained entry to the void space through a maintenance access panel located within the flight attendant rest compartment on select 777 planes.
The men climbed out of their hiding place and surrendered to CBP agents when they arrived in Washington, DC.
A spokesperson for CBP said the men “possessed Ethiopian Airlines employee identification cards, and that they stowed away with the intent of claiming asylum in the United States.”
“The two Ethiopian males are presently housed at a federal detention facility pending a hearing before an immigration judge,” the statement continued.
“CBP issued a civil penalty to Ethiopian Airlines for the security breach and were briefed on measures the airline is undertaking to enhance the airline’s aircraft security plan.”
The security breach is not a one-time occurrence. As many as 16 Ethiopian Airlines employees have successfully smuggled themselves out of the country using the airline’s own planes.
Some apparently disguised themselves as cabin personnel, while others lurked in the cargo hold of commercial planes.
Two former Ethiopian Airlines employees described how they hid behind the crew baggage in the bulk cargo hold of an Ethiopian Airlines plane on December 4, 2021, and fled to Brussels.
“We took the risk. We were — we had no choice, we had no choice, we couldn’t live in Addis Ababa, we were being treated as terrorists,” one of the men told CNN.
They are both of Tigrayan descent, hailing from Ethiopia’s disputed Tigray region in the north. The Ethiopian government has been fighting Tigrayan separatists for years, and the national flag carrier has been accused of assisting in the transportation of military arms and troops.
Ethiopian Airlines vehemently denies the charges.
Ethiopian Airlines has also been accused of discriminating against personnel with Tigray ancestry, which the airline “vehemently denies.” Ethiopian Airlines has yet to respond to the latest allegations publicly.