Ethiopian workers killed in fire at Chinese run stadium site: report

Seven Ethiopians working for a major Chinese contractor on Ethiopia’s FIFA-standard stadium died in a night-time blaze in a site dormitory last month but the news has been suppressed until now, a respected Ethiopian news site claims today.

Artist’s impression of the approximately $102m Adey Abeba Stadium planned for Addis Ababa (EthioSports via Facebook)

Survivors told Addis Standard that "almost a dozen" other workers were severely burned in the deadly fire that engulfed the dormitory housing workers employed by China State Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), which is building the FIFA-standard, 60,000-seat Adey Abeba stadium in the capital, Addis Ababa.

Witnesses said the fire occurred on 8 August after a gas cannister exploded at 8pm while workers were cooking. Each dormitory, about 90 sq m in area, was built from corrugated iron and plastic sheeting and accommodated around 20 workers, said survivors whom Addis Standard tracked down to various hospitals in the city. Some of the injured, who suffered severe burns, were only released this month.

According to some of the victims, families of the deceased itinerant workers had come to the capital from distant towns and refused to accept compensation offered by CSCEC amounting to around $640 for each worker. Addis Standard said the the compensation was offered to "avoid controversy and potential lawsuits".

Workers told the news site that around 800 Ethiopians and 200 Chinese were working at the $102m project (2.4 billion bir), and claimed the Chinese workers were housed in better accommodation.

Ethiopians were not provided with adequate safety equipment and clothing, workers also said.

A CSCEC site manager, giving his name only as "Chen", confirmed the fire had happened but would give no details, saying the scene of the fire had been demolished. Chen denied workers were given insufficient protective equipment, and other claims of unfair treatment.

Addis Standard said other CSCEC officials have "refused to speak about the accident to the press". The news site said victims interpret this as "a deliberate silence to protect the company’s interest and its image". CSCEC has undertaken other major projects in Ethiopia, including the new headquarters of the African Union Headquarters, funded entirely by the Chinese government, and the 20-storey headquarters of Ethiopia’s National Oil Company (NOC). It is also now building the new 46-storey headquarters of the state owned Commercial Bank of Ethiopia.

Privately owned, and taking an editorial stance often critical of Ethiopia’s government in a country where journalists face prosecution, Addis Standard was established in 2011 as a monthly print journal but ceased printing in October last year amid the government’s declared state of emergency. Since then it has since published only online.

Read its report here.

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