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Tigrayans living in Denver reflect on year-long war in Ethiopia

"We’re thousands of miles away, but we’re literally mentally in the middle of a war," said Millete Birhanemaskel.

DENVER — Every day for the last year, Millete Birhanemaskel has had one constant thing on her mind. Every morning, she wakes up wondering if her family in Tigray and across the rest of Ethiopia is OK or even alive. 

"Every single day, I try to call home," she said. "It’s like an internal alarm clock, you wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. because of the time difference to say OK, what happened now?" 

She has not been able to reach her family for the last five months due to communication outages in Ethiopia, as a year-long war continues to escalate.

"I knew that I had lost nine family members at that point, so five months ago," she said. 

The humanitarian crisis in Tigray has left hundreds of thousands facing starvation, innocent civilians killed and loved ones disconnected. Birhanemaskel has attended dozens of protests this last year to speak up for loved ones thousands of miles away. 

The same is true for Endale Getahun – who is a journalist and runs an immigrant and refugee-focused community radio station, KETO FM. 

> Previous story: Ethiopia's humanitarian crisis impacting Colorado communities

He attends protests to bring his listeners the latest community efforts to bring attention to the conflict in Tigray. But, each protest is personal. 

"My family is from that part of the region [Tigray], but at the same time, my community here in Colorado is a strong, tight Tigrayan community," Getahun said. 

Getahun and Birhanemaskel both traveled to Washington, D.C., last weekend to commemorate the one year mark of the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia. 

Getahun said there were thousands of Tigrayans who traveled from all over the U.S.

"It’s very heartbreaking to hear some of the things that happen," Getahun said. 

"Children should be in school, not hiding in caves and in mountains from bombs," Birhanemaskel said. "People should have access to clean water. These are human rights, people should have access to food." 

NBC News reported witness accounts that thousands were being arrested in mass, mostly ethnic Tigrayans. 

"None of us imagined that A – this type of war would begin and B – that a year later, we would still be here with not much resolution, people are still starving, people are still being bombed," said Birhanemaskel. 

Birhanemaskel also expressed the divisiveness between ethnic groups that has made its way to Colorado. 

When Deacon Yoseph Tafari first came to Denver as a refugee in the 1970's, he said there were maybe half a dozen Ethiopians in the city. Now, researchers estimate Denver is home to roughly 30,000 Ethiopians. 

"It’s a very vibrant, very diverse and it has really been one of the most successful Ethiopian diaspora community in the whole United States," Tafari told 9NEWS in October

Unfortunately, he said tensions between Amhara and Tigrayan people have existed for generations. The conflict overseas in their home country, worsened them. 

"It’s almost a generation and a half that we [started] worshipping at separate churches, we go to our own community centers," Tafari said. "Now, it’s come to a head...we need to have a good understanding about making sure that we are inclusive of our own Tigrayan brothers and sisters to find a common solution and for us also to bridge the gap between our communities." 

Tafari is calling on U.S. leaders to step in and help put a stop to the humanitarian crisis that has left hundreds of thousands displaced, starving and innocent civilians killed.  

CU Denver political science associate professor Dr. Betcy Jose said the international community should pay greater attention to the humanitarian crisis occurring in Ethiopia. 

"There have been concerns that the humanitarian crisis that we see in Tigray, might eventually become as terrible as the crisis and famine that we saw in Ethiopia in the 1980's," she told 9NEWS in October. 

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