In November 2020 Aklilu packed his bags for a trip from his university in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to meet his family in Humera, a small town nestled in the most northwestern part of the country. Like other soon-to-be college graduates, Aklilu was already job hunting and planning to celebrate. “I’ll see you in five weeks for our graduation ceremony,” Aklilu told his friends.
A few days after Aklilu returned to his family home in Humera, mortar-fire ripped through the small town. Conflict started between the federal government of Ethiopia and the Tigrayan Defence Force. Aklilu hurried across the border into Sudan for safety. Today, over 60,000 Ethiopians have poured into Sudan for safety like Aklilu.
Aklilu fled into Sudan with nothing and left his education in Ethiopia behind. Once proficient in the backroom politics of Chelsea football club and a top structural engineering student, Aklilu kicks dirt and waits for updates about the war in Ethiopia. He wonders if the past five years of college education have been for nothing.
“We never expected this could happen. I had heard there were issues, but to me they were just politics. I never knew things could become this bad,” Aklilu says.
When Aklilu arrived at the Um Rakuba refugee camp he lived with his mother, brother, grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousins under a blue tarp that hung over bundled-together wood. A latrine was nearby and the smell overtook the morning coffee his grandmother made. A few weeks later, his family relocated to another space and were given a white tent with a gracious opening in the front and back. But in the rainy season the tent became a parachute. Aklilu and other refugees became bleary eyed by holding the tent down each night to stave off the winds.
“When I was in Ethiopia, I loved the rainy season. You can’t do anything but sit and watch the rain come down. That was my favourite moment,” says Aklilu.
Around 1,655 other university students feel abandoned in the refugee camps like Aklilu. In Umm Rakuba there are 76 university students who have formed a group, called the Tigrayan Refugees University Students in Sudan Association, or TRUSS. The association’s document lay out why their future is in doubt.   
“Going back is like choosing death,” one letter the association wrote to a visitor says. “Universities in Tigray are highly damaged and destroyed…universities outside of Tigray are giving services at this time but most Tigrayan University students are afraid to go there because of their identity." Youth like Aklilu cannot back home to continue their education in the universities of Ethiopia in fear of the violence and discrimination they might encounter for being Tigrayans.
“A result of the conflict in Ethiopia is that some of the brightest minds in the country are confined to refugee camps in Sudan,” said Will Carter, Sudan Country Director at the Norwegian Refugee Council. “If these students are given a chance somewhere, they’d be a spark for whomever accepts them.”


But TRUSS students want more than acceptance into a University — they want a university to recognize their past work.
Many hurdles stand in the way of Aklilu getting his degree. When the violence started, many like Aklilu fled and left behind most of their valuables, including their civil documents, identity cards, and education records. As result, they are now unable to provide proof for who they are or how far along they got in university. Also, in a camp where the scarce amount of money they have is barely enough for food, the students cannot afford paying for registration, books, transportation, and accommodation.  The only solution would be a full-board scholarship.
Recently, Aklilu has been exploring going to a university in Ghana under a scholarship. However, this scholarship likely means that students lose the progress they have made in university and start from scratch. 
Aklilu, like the other senior students in the camp, is frustrated that he probably has to spend another five years studying for a Civil Engineering Degree he was only five weeks away from receiving.
“We are waiting for the opportunity for a university that will accept to acknowledge the credit we have from the university back home. If we accept to start over, we will be 30 years old by the time we graduate. We might not find a job for a long time over. We will be wasting a lot of time in our life,” says Aklilu.On a Friday morning, members of the association gather in a communal tent for their weekly meeting. They have organized themselves into committees and are planning their week ahead. One group will fundraise among other refugees to help an isolated elderly woman in the camp; another one will meet other students and youth in the camp to connect them with NGOs.
While they wait for education, the students in TRUSS and other youth act like community mobilizers. Truss has been helping organizations like NRC to re-build shelters, organize cash distributions, facilitate children registration in school, as well as raising community issues. They receive stipends from organizations, which help them support their families. 
“I liked watching movies and series back home, but I like it even more now because there’s nothing much else to do,” says Bisrat, one of Aklilu’s close friends, who now works for NRC.
The students feel trapped in part because they are. The 2014 Asylum Act gives refugees the right to move and seek an education, but in reality, they are contained to the camp. The encampment policy enforced for refugees prevents all the residents to leave the site, cutting them access to jobs and markets and curtailing their freedom of movement.
“Tigrayan refugees cannot leave the camp unless they acquire a permit from authorities for worthy reasons, linked to education, health, or jobs. Unfortunately, these permits are very hard to get – it becomes a vicious circle. They can’t get many opportunities to leave the camp, if they can’t leave the camp to look for them,” says Silvia Beccacece, former NRC Gadarif Area Manager.
Kids in the camp get access to education but are not much better off. Thanks to help from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affair, NRC was one of the first organizations to respond to learning needs in Umm Rakuba. Since then, NRC has been able to expand the quality and durability of the schools with the help of Education Cannot Wait. Around 2,050 children, aged between 6 and 14, go to the four schools NRC has built in different areas of the camp. Resources remain limited. The only textbooks available were ferried across from Ethiopia, and the children attend their classes by sitting on the floors of sand.
Still, students are grateful for what they receive. Nati Teame, 10, is one of NRC’s schoolchildren in the Um Rakuba camp. 
“I wake up in the morning and pass the time until it’s time for school. I’ve never been late,” Nati said. “My parents never got the chance to be educated, and I don’t want the same thing to happen to me.”

Photo: Ingrid/Prestetun
Sudan

– Den största gåvan är att ha mina vänner omkring mig

I ena stunden var Aklilu en topprankad ingenjörsstuderande med en ljus framtid framför sig. I nästa var han en flykting som bodde i ett provisoriskt tält. Men Aklilu vägrar att ge upp. I lägret där han nu bor har han bildat en ungdomsförening tillsammans med en grupp av studenter. Tillsammans är de fast beslutna att göra livet bättre för sitt samhälle.

Orange julgranskula med en hand som håller ett hjärta

I november 2020 packade Aklilu sin väskor. Han skulle åka tillbaka till universitetet i Addis Abeba, Etiopiens huvudstad. På grund av coronarestriktionerna hade han hade varit några månader hos sin familj i Humera, en liten stad i landets nordvästligaste del. Aklilu var glad över att äntligen kunna återuppta studierna och avlägga examen.

Liksom andra studerande med examen inom synhåll, sökte Aklilu redan jobb och planerade för examensfirandet. "Vi träffas om fem veckor för att fira examen", sa han till vännerna i Humera.

 

Vi trodde aldrig att detta skulle kunna hända. Jag hade hört att det fanns problem, men för mig var de bara politik.
Aklilu

Några timmar senare hördes granateld i staden. Det var startsignalen till en konflikt mellan den federala etiopiska regeringen och väpnade grupper i Tigray-regionen. Akluli skyndade över gränsen till Sudan – en av 60 000 etiopier som sedan dess har strömmat till Sudan för att söka skydd.

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Livet under presenningar

Aklilu flydde utan någonting och lämnade sin utbildning i Etiopien bakom sig. Den tidigare topprankade civilingenjörsstudenten lever nu i ett flyktingläger och väntar på nyheter om kriget där hemma. Han undrar om de senaste fem årens högskolestudier har varit förgäves.

– Vi trodde aldrig att detta skulle kunna hända. Jag hade hört att det fanns problem, men för mig var det bara politik. Jag förstod inte att det skulle kunna bli så här illa, säger Aklilu.

In November 2020 Aklilu packed his bags for a trip from his university in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to meet his family in Humera, a small town nestled in the most northwestern part of the country. Like other soon-to-be college graduates, Aklilu was already job hunting and planning to celebrate. “I’ll see you in five weeks for our graduation ceremony,” Aklilu told his friends.
A few days after Aklilu returned to his family home in Humera, mortar-fire ripped through the small town. Conflict started between the federal government of Ethiopia and the Tigrayan Defence Force. Aklilu hurried across the border into Sudan for safety. Today, over 60,000 Ethiopians have poured into Sudan for safety like Aklilu.
Aklilu fled into Sudan with nothing and left his education in Ethiopia behind. Once proficient in the backroom politics of Chelsea football club and a top structural engineering student, Aklilu kicks dirt and waits for updates about the war in Ethiopia. He wonders if the past five years of college education have been for nothing.
“We never expected this could happen. I had heard there were issues, but to me they were just politics. I never knew things could become this bad,” Aklilu says.
When Aklilu arrived at the Um Rakuba refugee camp he lived with his mother, brother, grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousins under a blue tarp that hung over bundled-together wood. A latrine was nearby and the smell overtook the morning coffee his grandmother made. A few weeks later, his family relocated to another space and were given a white tent with a gracious opening in the front and back. But in the rainy season the tent became a parachute. Aklilu and other refugees became bleary eyed by holding the tent down each night to stave off the winds.
“When I was in Ethiopia, I loved the rainy season. You can’t do anything but sit and watch the rain come down. That was my favourite moment,” says Aklilu.
Around 1,655 other university students feel abandoned in the refugee camps like Aklilu. In Umm Rakuba there are 76 university students who have formed a group, called the Tigrayan Refugees University Students in Sudan Association, or TRUSS. The association’s document lay out why their future is in doubt.   
“Going back is like choosing death,” one letter the association wrote to a visitor says. “Universities in Tigray are highly damaged and destroyed…universities outside of Tigray are giving services at this time but most Tigrayan University students are afraid to go there because of their identity." Youth like Aklilu cannot back home to continue their education in the universities of Ethiopia in fear of the violence and discrimination they might encounter for being Tigrayans.
“A result of the conflict in Ethiopia is that some of the brightest minds in the country are confined to refugee camps in Sudan,” said Will Carter, Sudan Country Director at the Norwegian Refugee Council. “If these students are given a chance somewhere, they’d be a spark for whomever accepts them.”


But TRUSS students want more than acceptance into a University — they want a university to recognize their past work.
Many hurdles stand in the way of Aklilu getting his degree. When the violence started, many like Aklilu fled and left behind most of their valuables, including their civil documents, identity cards, and education records. As result, they are now unable to provide proof for who they are or how far along they got in university. Also, in a camp where the scarce amount of money they have is barely enough for food, the students cannot afford paying for registration, books, transportation, and accommodation.  The only solution would be a full-board scholarship.
Recently, Aklilu has been exploring going to a university in Ghana under a scholarship. However, this scholarship likely means that students lose the progress they have made in university and start from scratch. 
Aklilu, like the other senior students in the camp, is frustrated that he probably has to spend another five years studying for a Civil Engineering Degree he was only five weeks away from receiving.
“We are waiting for the opportunity for a university that will accept to acknowledge the credit we have from the university back home. If we accept to start over, we will be 30 years old by the time we graduate. We might not find a job for a long time over. We will be wasting a lot of time in our life,” says Aklilu.On a Friday morning, members of the association gather in a communal tent for their weekly meeting. They have organized themselves into committees and are planning their week ahead. One group will fundraise among other refugees to help an isolated elderly woman in the camp; another one will meet other students and youth in the camp to connect them with NGOs.
While they wait for education, the students in TRUSS and other youth act like community mobilizers. Truss has been helping organizations like NRC to re-build shelters, organize cash distributions, facilitate children registration in school, as well as raising community issues. They receive stipends from organizations, which help them support their families. 
“I liked watching movies and series back home, but I like it even more now because there’s nothing much else to do,” says Bisrat, one of Aklilu’s close friends, who now works for NRC.
The students feel trapped in part because they are. The 2014 Asylum Act gives refugees the right to move and seek an education, but in reality, they are contained to the camp. The encampment policy enforced for refugees prevents all the residents to leave the site, cutting them access to jobs and markets and curtailing their freedom of movement.
“Tigrayan refugees cannot leave the camp unless they acquire a permit from authorities for worthy reasons, linked to education, health, or jobs. Unfortunately, these permits are very hard to get – it becomes a vicious circle. They can’t get many opportunities to leave the camp, if they can’t leave the camp to look for them,” says Silvia Beccacece, former NRC Gadarif Area Manager.
Kids in the camp get access to education but are not much better off. Thanks to help from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affair, NRC was one of the first organizations to respond to learning needs in Umm Rakuba. Since then, NRC has been able to expand the quality and durability of the schools with the help of Education Cannot Wait. Around 2,050 children, aged between 6 and 14, go to the four schools NRC has built in different areas of the camp. Resources remain limited. The only textbooks available were ferried across from Ethiopia, and the children attend their classes by sitting on the floors of sand.
Still, students are grateful for what they receive. Nati Teame, 10, is one of NRC’s schoolchildren in the Um Rakuba camp. 
“I wake up in the morning and pass the time until it’s time for school. I’ve never been late,” Nati said. “My parents never got the chance to be educated, and I don’t want the same thing to happen to me.”

Photo: Ingrid/Prestetun
Läs bildtexten Aklilu med flyktinglägret Um Rakuba i bakgrunden. Foto: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC Flyktinghjälpen

När Aklilu först kom till flyktinglägret Um Rakuba bodde han med sin familj under en blå presenning draperad över en provisorisk träställning. I närheten fanns en latrin och stanken därifrån var starkare än doften från kaffet som hans farmor kokade varje morgon.

Några veckor senare flyttade familjen till en annan plats och fick ett vitt tält med en ordentlig öppning på fram- och baksidan. Men under regntiden blev tältet till ett vindfång. Med rinnande ögon ägnade Aklilu nätterna åt att hålla fast tältet i vindbyarna.

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– Jag älskade regntiden i Etiopien. Man kunde inte göra något annat än att sitta inne och se regnet falla. Det var min bästa årstid, säger Aklilu.

Pausad utbildning

För närvarande bor cirka 1 655 andra tigrayanska universitetsstuderande i flyktingläger i Sudan. De känner sig övergivna.

– Ett resultat av konflikten i Etiopien är att några av landets mest begåvade ungdomar sitter inspärrade i flyktingläger i Sudan, säger William Carter, NRC Flyktinghjälpens landsdirektör för Sudan. Den som ger de här studenterna en chans, får tillgång till verkliga talanger.

Många hinder står i vägen för Aklilus examen. När striderna startade flydde han och många andra utan att få med sig ID-kort och betyg. Därför kan de nu inte bevisa vilka de är eller hur långt de har kommit i sina studier. Pengar är också ett problem.

Det kanske dröjer länge innan vi hittar ett jobb. Vi slösar bort en massa tid i livet.
Aklilu

Aklilu undersökte nyligen möjligheterna att få ett stipendium till universitetsstudier i Ghana. Men sådana stipendier brukar innebära att man måste börja om från början med studierna.

Han är frustrerad över att han måste studera i ytterligare fem år för den civilingenjörsexamen som han var bara fem veckor från att få.

– Vi försöker hitta ett universitet som godkänner de poäng vi har från universitetet hemma. Om vi börjar om från början kommer vi att vara 30 år när vi avlägger examen. Det kanske dröjer länge innan vi hittar ett jobb. Vi slösar bort en massa tid i livet, säger Aklilu.

”Som att vara i fängelse”

Livet i Um Rakuba-lägret är frustrerande för unga människor som är vana att kunna resa fritt för att studera och söka arbete.

– Det värsta med att bo i ett läger är att ingenting går framåt, förklarar Aklilu. Det är som att vara i fängelse. Det är svårt eftersom alla behöver frihet för att kunna arbeta fritt och göra vad de vill.

In November 2020 Aklilu packed his bags for a trip from his university in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to meet his family in Humera, a small town nestled in the most northwestern part of the country. Like other soon-to-be college graduates, Aklilu was already job hunting and planning to celebrate. “I’ll see you in five weeks for our graduation ceremony,” Aklilu told his friends.
A few days after Aklilu returned to his family home in Humera, mortar-fire ripped through the small town. Conflict started between the federal government of Ethiopia and the Tigrayan Defence Force. Aklilu hurried across the border into Sudan for safety. Today, over 60,000 Ethiopians have poured into Sudan for safety like Aklilu.
Aklilu fled into Sudan with nothing and left his education in Ethiopia behind. Once proficient in the backroom politics of Chelsea football club and a top structural engineering student, Aklilu kicks dirt and waits for updates about the war in Ethiopia. He wonders if the past five years of college education have been for nothing.
“We never expected this could happen. I had heard there were issues, but to me they were just politics. I never knew things could become this bad,” Aklilu says.
When Aklilu arrived at the Um Rakuba refugee camp he lived with his mother, brother, grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousins under a blue tarp that hung over bundled-together wood. A latrine was nearby and the smell overtook the morning coffee his grandmother made. A few weeks later, his family relocated to another space and were given a white tent with a gracious opening in the front and back. But in the rainy season the tent became a parachute. Aklilu and other refugees became bleary eyed by holding the tent down each night to stave off the winds.
“When I was in Ethiopia, I loved the rainy season. You can’t do anything but sit and watch the rain come down. That was my favourite moment,” says Aklilu.
Around 1,655 other university students feel abandoned in the refugee camps like Aklilu. In Umm Rakuba there are 76 university students who have formed a group, called the Tigrayan Refugees University Students in Sudan Association, or TRUSS. The association’s document lay out why their future is in doubt.   
“Going back is like choosing death,” one letter the association wrote to a visitor says. “Universities in Tigray are highly damaged and destroyed…universities outside of Tigray are giving services at this time but most Tigrayan University students are afraid to go there because of their identity." Youth like Aklilu cannot back home to continue their education in the universities of Ethiopia in fear of the violence and discrimination they might encounter for being Tigrayans.
“A result of the conflict in Ethiopia is that some of the brightest minds in the country are confined to refugee camps in Sudan,” said Will Carter, Sudan Country Director at the Norwegian Refugee Council. “If these students are given a chance somewhere, they’d be a spark for whomever accepts them.”


But TRUSS students want more than acceptance into a University — they want a university to recognize their past work.
Many hurdles stand in the way of Aklilu getting his degree. When the violence started, many like Aklilu fled and left behind most of their valuables, including their civil documents, identity cards, and education records. As result, they are now unable to provide proof for who they are or how far along they got in university. Also, in a camp where the scarce amount of money they have is barely enough for food, the students cannot afford paying for registration, books, transportation, and accommodation.  The only solution would be a full-board scholarship.
Recently, Aklilu has been exploring going to a university in Ghana under a scholarship. However, this scholarship likely means that students lose the progress they have made in university and start from scratch. 
Aklilu, like the other senior students in the camp, is frustrated that he probably has to spend another five years studying for a Civil Engineering Degree he was only five weeks away from receiving.
“We are waiting for the opportunity for a university that will accept to acknowledge the credit we have from the university back home. If we accept to start over, we will be 30 years old by the time we graduate. We might not find a job for a long time over. We will be wasting a lot of time in our life,” says Aklilu.On a Friday morning, members of the association gather in a communal tent for their weekly meeting. They have organized themselves into committees and are planning their week ahead. One group will fundraise among other refugees to help an isolated elderly woman in the camp; another one will meet other students and youth in the camp to connect them with NGOs.
While they wait for education, the students in TRUSS and other youth act like community mobilizers. Truss has been helping organizations like NRC to re-build shelters, organize cash distributions, facilitate children registration in school, as well as raising community issues. They receive stipends from organizations, which help them support their families. 
“I liked watching movies and series back home, but I like it even more now because there’s nothing much else to do,” says Bisrat, one of Aklilu’s close friends, who now works for NRC.
The students feel trapped in part because they are. The 2014 Asylum Act gives refugees the right to move and seek an education, but in reality, they are contained to the camp. The encampment policy enforced for refugees prevents all the residents to leave the site, cutting them access to jobs and markets and curtailing their freedom of movement.
“Tigrayan refugees cannot leave the camp unless they acquire a permit from authorities for worthy reasons, linked to education, health, or jobs. Unfortunately, these permits are very hard to get – it becomes a vicious circle. They can’t get many opportunities to leave the camp, if they can’t leave the camp to look for them,” says Silvia Beccacece, former NRC Gadarif Area Manager.
Kids in the camp get access to education but are not much better off. Thanks to help from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affair, NRC was one of the first organizations to respond to learning needs in Umm Rakuba. Since then, NRC has been able to expand the quality and durability of the schools with the help of Education Cannot Wait. Around 2,050 children, aged between 6 and 14, go to the four schools NRC has built in different areas of the camp. Resources remain limited. The only textbooks available were ferried across from Ethiopia, and the children attend their classes by sitting on the floors of sand.
Still, students are grateful for what they receive. Nati Teame, 10, is one of NRC’s schoolchildren in the Um Rakuba camp. 
“I wake up in the morning and pass the time until it’s time for school. I’ve never been late,” Nati said. “My parents never got the chance to be educated, and I don’t want the same thing to happen to me.”

Photo: Ingrid/Prestetun
Läs bildtexten – Det värsta med att bo i ett läger är att ingenting går framåt, förklarar Aklilu. Foto: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC Flyktinghjälpen

Sudans asyllag från 2014 ger flyktingar rätt att flytta och söka utbildning men i verkligheten kan de inte lämna lägret, Lägerpolicyn hindrar dem som bor i läger från att lämna platsen, vilket begränsar deras tillgång till arbeten och marknader.

Silvia Beccacece, tidigare områdeschef för NRC Flyktinghjälpen, förklarar:

– Etiopiska flyktingar får inte lämna lägret om myndigheterna inte ger dem ett särskilt tillstånd. För det krävs goda skäl kopplade till utbildning, hälsa eller jobb. Men det är svårt att få ett sådant tillstånd – så det blir en ond cirkel. Flyktingar kan inte få möjlighet att lämna lägret om de inte kan lämna lägret för att söka möjligheter.

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Stöd i varandra

De många vedermödorna till trots har studenterna i lägret funnit stöd i varandra. De har bildat en grupp, Tigrayan Refugees University Students in Sudan Association, eller TRUSS.

Aklilu är en av grundarna.

– Det blir lättare om vi delar våra känslor och är tillsammans, säger han.

Aklilu and his friends  at a cafe in UM RAKUBA refugee camp.

Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC
Läs bildtexten Aklilu umgås med en grupp vänner. – Den största gåvan i mitt liv är att ha mina vänner omkring mig, säger han. Foto: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC Flyktinghjälpen

Utöver att sträva efter att få fortsätta sina utbildningar, samarbetar studenterna i TRUSS med en annan grupp ungdomar i lägret för att mobilisera lokalsamhället.

– Det finns så stora behov här och vi kan bidra med något, fortsätter Aklilu. Vi planerar hur vi kan göra lägret bekvämare för både ungdomarna och alla andra här. Det är vad vi gör som förening och som grupp. Därför att det är mycket viktigt att vara tillsammans.

”Jag har inte förlorat hoppet”

Varje fredagsmorgon samlas föreningens medlemmar i ett samlingstält för sitt veckomöte. De har organiserat sig i kommittéer och planerar för den kommande veckan.

En grupp ska samla in pengar för att hjälpa en isolerad äldre kvinna i lägret. En annan grupp ska träffa andra studenter och unga människor för att förmedla kontakter med biståndsorganisationer.

Det som gör mig optimistisk är att jag har vänner här och jag diskuterar med dem om vad vi ska göra för framtiden.
Aklilu

TRUSS medlemmar har hjälpt organisationer som NRC Flyktinghjälpen med att återuppbygga provisoriska bostäder, organisera utdelning av kontanter och registrera barn i skolan, liksom att väcka samhällsfrågor. De får arvoden från biståndsorganisationer som hjälper dem att försörja sina familjer.

– Jag har inte förlorat hoppet, säger Aklilu. Det som gör mig optimistisk är att jag har vänner här och jag diskuterar med dem om vad vi ska göra för framtiden. Även om det inte någon direkt plan, kan vi hjälpas åt med dagliga aktiviteter. Den största gåvan i mitt liv är att ha mina vänner omkring mig.