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AlJazeera: The Tragedy of The Eritrean Refugees In Sudan

[The following is the translation of the Arabic text report by AlJazeera that accompanied the video report. bears responsibility for any errors in translation]

From the frying pan into the fire: The Tragedy of The Eritrean Refugees In Sudan
A Report of the episode by

They left their country because of war and persecution by the rulers, and fled to the Sudan in search of security and stability, but they found themselves prisoners inside camps that lack the minimum requirements of life, in addition to what they face: kidnappings and trafficking their organs. They are refugees most of whom arrived from Eritrea, and they are living a major a humanitarian tragedy that [AlJazeera’s program, “Under the Magnifying Glass”] brought to light on August 20th, 2014.

More than one hundred thousand Eritrean refugees live in Eastern Sudan, some of them since 1967, and others since 2010. The first wave of refugees began to arrive to the Sudan in 1952, but the mass arrivals began in 1967, because of what is still continuing [in Eritrea] even today.

According to the Director of the Refugee Commission [of Sudan] Hamad AlJezouly, large numbers of refugees voluntarily returned to their country after the liberation of Eritrea, but after five or four years, a new wave of youth, refugees aged between 18 and thirty years [began to arrive].

The director of refugee protection, AlSir Khalid Mahmoud, also confirms that a new wave began [to arrive] in 2004. [Eversince] Sudan has been receiving between 200 and 250 asylum applications daily and between eight hundred and a thousand applications monthly.

The Reasons

There are many reasons for asylum, including repression and war in Eritrea, as well as the harsh compulsory military service for indefinite periods that is imposed on all who finishhigh school—that is what Abdallah Saleh Ali—who has been a refugees in the Khshm AlGirba camp since 1978, who says, that Eritrean cities have become ghost towns where only old people aged between seventy and eighty years [live].

Aster Zeroum, who has been in the Shegerab refugees camp since 2010, had another reason to leave her country: she was raped by one of the sons of the officials and she became pregnant; she had to escape to the Sudan.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is responsible for the nine refugee camps in the Sudan. Kai Nielsen, the representative of the High Commissioner, says that the mission of his organization is to help the Sudanese government to deal with refugees and newcomers, and he confirmed that there are ninety thousand refugees, mostly from Eritrea, in Eastern Sudan.

Suffering and An Unknown Fate For The Eritrean Refugees (AlJazeera)

However, this support does not meet the requirements of the refugees who expressed their tragedy to [AlJazeer’as program] “Under the Magnifying Glass”. A refugee, Mebrahtu Zekarias, says, “I surrendered myself to the International Organization to be protected, not to suffer”, while Mahmoud Abdul Hamid, a refugee at the Khashm AlGirba camp since 1979, says, he does not have dinner for his children. He continues, “The Eritrean people are dying… cattle fare better!” He then broke down sobbing for his situation and the situation of his people.

Kidnapping and trading

There are also many [other] problems in the refugee camps—there are no jobs, and education does not reach all the people, in addition to the many diseases that are caused by the deterioration of health services, except for the scarcity of water and lack of electricity, and above all, the refugees are prevented from leaving the camp; they can only be smuggled.

The director of the Refugee Protection blames the deterioration of the situation to the UNHCR, which [he said] stated that it has lifted its hands and will not support these camps which became a burden on the Sudan. He says, “We will not allow and will not handle issues that are supposed to be taken care of by the United Nations”, while the representative of the High Commissioner says, “There are no change of plans concerning the support of refugees.”

On top of their many problems, the residents of the camps are exposed to kidnappings by “Rashaida” bandits who are accused of kidnapping people, torturing them, and sometimes killing them after they transfer them to Sinai, Egypt. One of the kidnapped confirmed that they were tortured at the hands of the kidnappers who demanded ransom, and those who cannot pay had their body parts extracted by a well-known doctor who operates [on the kidnapped] without anesthesia, resulting in the death of many people.

Amid these problems, the Eritrean refugee remain hanging on an unknown fate, something that a refugee in the Shagerab camp refers to by saying, “I love Eritrea, but many times I feel I do not have neither an Eritrean nor a Sudanese identity… there is an unknown fate.”

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  • Hope

    What is that RIP man?
    Eritrea is alive and will shine up like a Morning Star very soon .

  • Hope

    Hello All,
    But I do not believe that this is a breaking news by Aljazeera.
    Haile the Great has been reporting this more than Aljazeera or but it is a good reminder and a wake up call:
    Aba Musie of the Habeshia org and his affiliates have summarized the tragedies as following:
    -about 325,000 refugees fled Eritrea in the last decade and about 70 per cent are said to be the Youth-more than 10 rounds of Sawa
    -about 3000 to 5000 have been kidnapped,killed,their organs harvested in the Sinai Desert
    -More than 2200 died in the Sea
    -more than 800 died on the way to Libya in the Sahara Desert
    – thousands have been kidnapped and died on the way to the Sudan ,Ethiopia and within the Sudanese and the Ethiopian Camps
    -Thousands have been victims of Rape,torture,deadly infections and diseases including TB,HIV,etc…
    The question is:
    Knowing all these Hard Core Facts,what have we done to help them to prevent such things rom happening.
    Yes,more than SHAME ON US!!!

  • Rodab

    Hi all,

    Festival Expo-Asmera concluded today, marking the end of the festivity seasons. Summer is a season the PFDJ enjoys the most. This is because starting with the independence day, through the Martyrs’ day and onto the festivals, the regime creates one excuse after another to turn peoples attention away from the grim reality on the ground. This is the season the state media, at the expense of everything else, turns its full attention to festivals, compatriots arriving home and the Sawa youth gatherings. Add to that the rainy season, this is arguably the time attempts are made, with considerable success, to portray a positive image. Well all that is over for now and the regime is entering its ‘dry’ season. The 13th commemoration of the September 11 events is also around the corner where regime officials will have time to reflect on their misdeeds. One way or another, inside their own homes or that of trusty friends, they will talk about it. There is no avoiding such a big event. No one can hide from his/her consciousness.

    In the meantime, with no festivals to report and plenty of troubles popping up from every direction, the state media will have tough times to cope and make its voice heard. A terribly failed propaganda is what I am seeing, moving forward.

    To the contrary, it is to be hoped the voices of the justice seeking community is able to penetrate more and more masses through Radios such as Erena, Assenna, and others. This, I think, is more worthwhile than anything else the Eri diaspora can contribute because at the end of the day it is folks inside that will ignite, run and own changes.

    What say you?

    • haileTG

      Selam Rodab,

      I would say the most perplexing of summers of all has just passed us by. It was a summer of the fanciest festival extravaganza in the most expensive halls and expensive stadiums by the PFDJ department of Koboro junkies. On the other hand it was the deadliest summer for Eritreans at the sea. With over 250 still missing, hundreds confirmed dead by the recent accounts and the earlier one reported in radio Assenna, it was the bloodiest summer by all accounts. The greater the death had gotten, the louder the koboro tone became. Eritrea, where death and dance have perfectly played to the tune of the accursed cult. I see the evil we (as a nation) are inviting would most likely arrive precisely on time to wreck us a grave havoc beyond our worst nightmares 🙁

  • Tesfabirhan WR

    Dear Dr. Sara,

    I always tremble when I read such words coming as a strong call. Shame on US really, shame on me!!! We took for granted that refugees in Sudan are safe enough while those crossing the desert and sea as something that is shocking while everything is Shocking to the Eritreans. PFDJ purposefully forgot for those who are living in front of the door-steps and went as far as to Canada and Australia to record show-up festivals. This has brainwashed the mind of Eritreans who are living inside as if things as all fine out-side.

    These refugees who are living right to our door-steps are simply dying. There is no hope installed within them except the natural hope that they keep going. The koboro junkie system of PFDJ has fooled many Eritreans while the reality that never voiced is buried.

    I have no words more than this. Just shame on me and shame on us.


    I should have used your student, but to ease and be close to you I prefer Hawki. Hope you feel comfortable.

    • Sarah Ogbay

      You are now my colleague in the job ‘In search of justice and democracy’. Now I aml learning from you as well.
      The PFDJ’s are doing their job; what about us? What are we doing? We are only whining, judgiing, blaming each other so much so that we have lost our way. PFDJ is our enemy. We can not stop them from doing their job by writing or demonstrating outside their festival camps. Instead, we could have gone to refugee camps and given them some hope, hope that the misery will be over soon. Or we could have used the money spent on demonstrations to help them. Or maybe if we are brave enough, encourage those carrying arms to bleed PFDJ.
      It is surprising to hear some people worrying that Ethiopia will attack or even invade Eritrea. What they failed to see is that it HAS ALREADY HAPPENED! We have tens of thousands of DEMHIT in our land running our army. Our hate of Ethiopia is so much that it has made us lose our focus. It is imperative that we wake up and put our priorities right. The only way to do that is to focus. E.g can organise fund raising project just for one refugee camp. can do the same for another camp. That way the impact of the good deeds can be obvious. I would wash some cars along with my kids to contribute. We can have two meals and share the third with our people in the camps.
      In the meantime, our elites should focus on campaigning to take our cause to the tables of goverment and powerful offices like UN. How is it that we are not doing this?

      • Tesfabirhan WR

        Dear Dr. Sara,

        I share the same view as you said and hope we will build-up a concerted action to aid the needy people.

        One thing though,

        There are humanitarian agencies that are working to aid people who are living in refugee camps. I do not have a complete list but I am aware for their existence. Some have worked for the last 20-30 years and continuously are channeling their humanitarian aid though sometimes the political environment does not make it easy. I have meet one person who is an EPDP member here in France and is a chairman of the disabled veterans who are living in Shegerab camp. He told me that every year they launch a fund raising campaign especially the ELF members and Eritreans who are sympathetic and share the responsibility to help these people. And they have so far kept a straight and smooth record to provide up to the capacity they are able to help. In addition, he also told me that they provide some material and monetary fund to the refugee school in Shegerab. Just to make you aware in case.

        In addition, there are some other small scale Eritrean humanitarian agencies who are doing a commendable work in providing materials needed when it is in urgency. To mention some, the one that helped refugees who were/are stranded in Yemen, for those who are living in Libya under harsh condition (at least in providing information and raise the awareness, Abba Mussie is one best example), some initiatives and fund raising campaigns done by assenna foundation, those who were working in Sinai, Human rights activists like Elsa Chrum and Meron, etc.

        I do not have a complete picture of all the actors who are working but the potential is huge if proper channeling and awareness campaign is done so that instead of emergency response some strong institution can be established. Of course there are an already established organizations like the habesha, some from UK and very few linked to parties (EPDP has a branch). We can reinforce these through all means. Re-organizing them in a cluster form, those who have similar objectives be linked and work together if not in parallel so that duplication and unwanted conflict of interest can avoided. If people are aware then the PFDJ sponsored politically oriented Eritrean community centers be dismantled and re-organized so that a new phase of humanitarian campaigns be introduced.

        If we do so, the one that you heartfully willing to do, to engage even your kids and the whole family can get a channel to submit what every penny they get and be delivered to the intended final destiny. Sometimes, we feel as if we are virtual society and this is because of the vacuum which is created when PFDJ is withdrawing from the all walks of Eritrean matters and no one is able to replace on time. Before, EPLF had a humanitarian aid institution, ERA, which was collecting all money collected and send them back home. people know where they can give and what.

        Once PFDJ ignored the humanitarian issue and abandoned any help coming from NGO for conspired political reasons, Eritreans are left in an open field. And those who started to be established were confronted with defamation and aggressive attitudes as if they are making rich of their pockets, same as the Opposition movements. The same as the suspection encountered to any justice seekers movement, the humanitarian aid agencies were/are equally suspected and hence their ability to do became very restricted.

        Let me just give you one example. A UK based humanitarian agency that help people in Shegerab sent one representative to make a campaign of fund raising. The city that I am living does not have more than 400 Eritreans but are very active. And in response to that, information was circulated for a meetings. Not all but very encouraging number of invited people came and did what was planned. And then after a rumor circulated and it was initiated by PFDJ members whom I later came to know. The rumor was: “Moslems had a separate meetings and the one who came was for political objective.” And, this rumor went in every house where Eritreans live. The source was originated from 2 or 3 people who are always against unity. I talked with those who attended and those who broadcasted the rumor as well as the receivers. The attendants were true to themselves and all interested Eritreans (I do not use Moslems and Christians but this is what I means) AND CONTRIBUTED what they can and are ready for any coming good works.

        This is then what we have. PFDJ is everywhere. he does not want institutions to be established outside his circle. he wants to leave the country without responsible institution. We need to fight for this too. Haile TG is a good asset here. He always aware us on what is going on to our people. is to inform and they constantly said that putting hand i everywhere simply mixes tasks. See what is happening to An information media should have an objective, to inform and if they are able to analyze and here is what is doing. is now changing their strategy but they need miles to walk in order to restore trusteeship. If they are working on the ideology of YG and indeed they are following his ideology, it will simply be a hallucination. should keep clean themselves first on the Eritrean matter. TERROR should not be our motto but HOPE.

        I have watched the awate staff to organize meetings who are aimed for humanitarian agencies and many times read their Gedab News focusing similarly. And just read in Mahmud Saleh’s lines, Haile TG’s, Semere Andom, Gezae hagos, etch. You will read that they have attended meetings and are here to inform us and analyze the situation. If we have the information then it is up to the receiver to use it. In fact, here ate awate we go further, WE ACT.


        • Sarah Ogbay

          Yes, EPLF had ERA; why would the opposition not have one organised humanitarian agency that would look after Eritreans!
          There is no doubt that there are some humanitarian agencies? but how commited and strong are they? If they were acting efficiently, would we be hearing and seeing what is going on at the moment? And why would we be looking at international humanitarian agencies when we can do it ourselves? They are our people; my people and your people. UNHCR has fail them time and again. They have let our people down big time. By the way, whatever they give our people is leftover from some other causes. They do not campaign to raise any money for Eritreans.

          As for the websites, call me naïve or emotional, I think eritreans do not need only the dissemination of news, views and articles! they/we want hand they/we can fall on and hands that can pull us from the abyss we are in. You wrote.’ is to inform and they constantly said that putting hand i everywhere simply mixes tasks.’. Mixing tasks! If it saves people then so be it.
          This thing about YG is a waste of time. At least that is what I think. People have the right to think, believe, support, speak, move etc. as long as they do not harm others. Are we not fighting for the human rights of Eritrean people? How can we act like PFDJ? In the first place YG’s issue or whatever we want to call it, is besides the point. He has the right to think and be whatever he wants.
          What we should worry about and focus on is what can we do to alleviate the horrific problems our people are in. Can we do that?
          One day, when and if this comes to and end, these people will say ‘ WE DO NOT REMEBER WHAT OUR ENEMIES SAID BUT WE WILL NOT FORGET THE SILENCE OF OUR FRIENDS’
          (Martin Luther King)
          Will we have any answer for that?

          • Tesfabirhan WR

            Dear Dr. Sara,

            Of course we have. And I am sure we are doing it. Even here you are to speak about. Let’s act then!

            Let’s move to dialectical analysis.

            In 1991, almost all Eritreans, even the EPLF opposition groups welcomed the independence and closed the revolution issue except they wanted to form a responsible government who will well come all Eritreans and open a political freedom to the new all dimensioned development. Considering this then, almost all institutions were monopolized through one line and the already established humanitarian agencies finished their work in backing up the people who was living behind the trenches. Since then after, Eritreans changed the system and worked as free country. Emergency humanitarian agencies were almost dismantled.

            Other forms of organizing fund raising committees were established to back-up the declared economic developments. People welcomed this and shifted its action. Some works were also initiated by the names of martyrs and help the families who lost their beloved children and even here almost all Eritreans welcomed the program. And during the border war with Ethiopia, PFDJ campaigned heavily and collected huge amounts of money. Even after, by the name of economic revolution, Helping the martyrs families and so on people continued to help. This all was done by PFDJ junta. PFDJ acted all. Let’s just forget where it was going for the time being.

            This kind of activity diverted the minds of humanitarian works and almost no institution was present. Soon after PFDJ came as full dictator, since 2001, people started to oppose the junta. But no one imagined such huge humanitarian disaster will occur in the near future. Every thing was meant to oppose PFDJ. And since people started to flee from Eritrea, the exodus, things completely changed and the number of people who need help increased in folds. PFDJ denied any such exodus is coming and denied the Eritrean people as if they are non-Eritrean (We all know what he said in October 2103).

            Up to that date, humanitarian agencies were not strong enough as an institution to reach those who are need. More than this, the international community even could not recognize them as responsible Eritrean representative institutions. EU could not recognize them, UN could not recognize them and upto this date AU also is not recognizing them. How can you think then it is possible to establish a strong humanitarian agencies?

            and in the other dimension, The Eritrean people were responding positively to any call made by PFDJ and contribute what they can. PFDJ denied such humanitarian needs are demanded by Eritreans (lets have the Lampedusa) and the Human trafficking issue was purposefully ignored thousand times by the self declared PFDJ government as it is a conspiracy and is done by western countries. Even after the conspiracy, he didn’t act. Instead he tried to halt any move that stepped to help and make the awareness to the public (a campaign against, Meron, Abba Mussie, Dr from Italy, (sorry for her name) and very few individuals who worked to make the issue public. This was all meant to close any help that might be directed to the needy.

            This all then hindered the Diaspora based Eritrean society to organize and contribute through any organized group or established institution. How can then a campaign be run and raise fund to help those are really in need. I will simply recall how people tried to defame when he raised funds to help Wedi Ali’s family. Even those who say we are in the opposition moved against and tried to accuse him.

            Ok, this is what we all are surrounded by.

            Under all these mentioned environments some progress is done. The humanitarian agencies have now got access to the international communty and even are receiving invitations to attend summits and voice for the voiceless (Thanks for those who are working relentlessly). I do not read Arabic but there are also well established institutions who are working in Europe and the middle east though they make reports in Arabic. The vacuum created is now getting replaced. We are getting new humanitarian agencies who can talk on behalf of the voiceless people.

            Are they strong?

            Sure NO. But they are getting strong. To be strong then they need educated people like you, Dr. Sara, people who can listen, write, speak and act.

            How about the old humanitarian agencies who were working with their small capacities for decades? the ELF side and now under EPDP and so on? Yah, sometimes some leaders forget that what they have is people’s property, they feel owners and close any door which can be accessed.

            My “we can do” statement is then from this dimension. Simply, let’s work in all dimensions and encourage, open and act. Let’s break the walls that is blocking us from walking into.


            * I have seen a small video that you were part and are organizing themselves as Eritrean professionals residing in UK, especially the former university students. Many who are in the members are my former classmates and close friends. I am proud to see them being organized and work to upgrade their professionalism. Hopefully they are in preparation and help in transforming the higher institutions and the need of academicians once PFDJ is removed. I am proud of you Dr. Sara. Keep on and I am in spirit with you and hopefully and sooner we will start here in the country that I am living too.

          • Sarah Ogbay

            Dear Tesfabirhan,
            Thank you very much of the analysis and the appreciation. However, I still believe that as long as we are alive and as long as we claim we struggle for justice and democracy we should not give up no matter how hard it get. I am sure you share the same opinion that ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’.

          • Tesfabirhan WR

            Dear Dr. Sara,

            I agree completely. Let our sky be without boundaries.


            Just a jok: Hoping to pass my English sophomore test (እዋ’እ ክንደይ ግዜ ደኣ ደረቕ ሲነ-ፍልጠት ክንዛረብ። ሙኻን ጭርቃን ኣበይ ከይክእሎ?)

          • Hope

            FYI Dr Sara,
            The EPDP has a limited depts for Refugees,the Youth and for the Women but it has been a taboo to acknowledge even its existence let alone to join its effort and help the needy one despite that it has been the ONLY VOICE for them thus far to my best knowledge.
            This sabotage is simply due to the nature of the Opppsition Camp.

          • Hope

            For further info about the EPDP and its program besides its activities for the Refugees , google @ harnnet.Org

  • Amanuel Hidrat

    Sis Sara,

    I share your concern. I have no qualms to concur your statement that “our hearts have hardened and our ears and minds have got used to the barrage of bad news that hit us on the face everyday.” No priority on what we attempt to do. Well said and it is beyond mind boggling.

    Amanuel Hidrat

  • Tzigereda

    Dearest Sara,
    Yes, I can only repeat your word, shame on US!

  • sarah ogbay

    Shame on us! The impact of the of the Eritrean political and economic situation has adversely affected the values of Eritrean society to level beyond explanation. Our hearts have hardened and our ears and minds have got used to the barrage of bad news that hits us on the face everyday. Sometime it feels like we are in denial that we are near extinction (both in quality and quantity). How is it that we talk about unity and not unite, about struggle justice and not commit to it? What happened to our identity and compassion? How can we ‘Eritrean who have gone through hell and back’ to snatch our land from the Dergue are not able to snatch our people from the monsters chewing our youth, mothers, fathers etc. to bits? Did we, Eritreans, not contribute financially, emotionally and physically so that we get our country back? Is this who we really are? Haters of Ethiopia only? Or has the situation eroded our identity as well? It is mind boggling!

  • Saleh Johar

    Thank you Sarah,

    This is in fact very telling, a subject that should shake our being is treated as, “eh, it happens!” To make matters worse, let me disclose this: Arabic websites and Arabic social media is buzzing with comments about this report., as always, in attempting to bridge the gap, translated the gist of the AlJazeera report. As usual, no takers on the English speaking Eritreans side 🙂 But again, I have to say, “eh, it happens!”

  • Tsegaye

    There is news that a boat carrying sub sahara migrants capsized in Mediterranean sea along the Libyan coast. It’s a big tragedy and wish they are not from the horn.

  • haileTG

    Thanks AT for this service. I have seen the video but was hopping to get a translation, where would we be without you guys. Thanks.

    I know the report says more than 100,000 since 1967, what is the proportion of those from the recent batch? I know we have over 90,000 in Ethiopia and considering the UNHCR report of 313,000 in the last decade, that leaves a lot unaccounted (over 150000). It would be nice to get some number crunching around this by AT or capable awatistas 🙂