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Shepherd University student escaped Ivory Coast oppression to make a new life in U.S.

Siriki Diabate was granted refugee status in Ghana after suffering a severe beating for writing newspaper stories about the persecution of Malinki tribal people

April 24, 2013|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • Siriki Diabate, of Hagerstown, is a student at Shepherd University. He was forced to flee his native Ivory Coast after suffering a severe beating by thugs who left him for dead.
By Richard Belisle, Staff Writer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Siriki Diabate left his four daughters, parents and three siblings behind in 2005 when he was forced to flee his native Ivory Coast after suffering a terrific beating by thugs who left him for dead.

He was working for a local newspaper at the time, writing stories exposing the national government’s practice of persecuting the Malinki tribal people in the country’s northern region, he said.

“I am a Malinki,” said Diabate, who was 32 at the time he was beaten.

The men who beat him were unofficial paramilitary goons hired by the government to harass Malinki activists, Diabate said in a recent interview.

“They didn’t wear uniforms. They told me they were looking for me and that I was going to be beaten because of the stories I was writing about the government. They killed some people and others were forced to flee,” he said.

A friend found him severely wounded and lying on the ground, and encouraged him to escape to neighboring Ghana. He arrived there after walking 200 miles, he said. He was granted refugee status in Ghana.

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The official name of Ivory Coast is Cote d’Ivoire. It borders the Atlantic Ocean to the south and is located between Liberia on the west and Ghana on the east. The country, which is politically unstable, gained its independence from France in 1960. French is its official language.

Diabate was educated in Ivory Coast schools and completed a certification program at a language school in Abidjan where he learned English.

He worked as a translator and interpreter in Ghana for two years until he was given refugee status by the United States after applying for it at the U.S. Embassy in Ghana, he said.

He connected with a refugee program coordinator in December 2006 and came to this country in January 2007 through the Virginia Council of Churches. He ended up in Hagerstown because the church had an office here at the time, he said. The church helped him to find lodging and a job. He enrolled in Hagerstown Community College. In 2012, he graduated with an associate’s degree in political science and began classes at Shepherd University last fall in political science. He lives on campus.

Diabate became a naturalized U.S. citizen in July.

He said he has not returned to Ivory Coast to see his daughters, parents or siblings since he left in 2005.

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