Eden didn’t tell her parents she was fleeing Eritrea and leaving them. She has dreams of reaching Europe and being reunited with her brother in Germany, but he doesn’t want his little sister to take the dangerous journey.
 "I had to leave Eritrea. Life there is really hard."

We first meet the twenty-year-old in a refugee camp in northern Ethiopia. It’s dry season, and the temperature is rising quickly during the morning hours, reaching almost 40 degrees. The ground is dusty and the trees don’t have enough green leaves to protect us from the sun.

Eden greets us outside the bright turquoise-painted house as we arrive, asking us to come inside. "I’ve lived here for a little more than a year now," she says.

She didn’t plan to stay that long.

"I want to go to Sudan, then Libya and further on to Europe," she explains. And yes, she is aware that it is a dangerous journey. She has friends who have taken the same route, some of whom made it to Europe. Others didn’t complete the journey.

Keeping her parents in the dark
In 2017, more than 25,000 Eritreans fled across the southern border of their country to Ethiopia. Most of them are youth and minors, and many fled alone. Most cite Eritrea’s mandatory national service, which is compulsory for citizens from the age of 18, as the main reason for leaving the country.

Four years ago, Eden’s 27-year-old brother made it to Germany. He took the long, dangerous journey through Sudan and Libya and across the sea to Europe. In November 2016, Eden decided to do the same. She said nothing to her family.

"If I had told them, I’m certain they would have stopped me."

First, she went to her grandfather’s place to hide from the military. While she was there, she asked her aunt to send her some money, which she then paid to a smuggler. On the day she left, she saw her father in the street. She managed to hide from him.

"I regret that I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to him," she says, tears in her eyes. It was not an easy decision to leave her mother, father and siblings, but Eden felt she had no other choice.

As I see it, I have two options in life: to succeed or to fail. I have heard it’s very difficult, but as long as going through Sudan and Libya is the only way to reach Europe, that’s what I want to do."
Eden, 20.
Hid from the military
Along with a group of 16 others, she embarked on the journey from Asmara, the Eritrean capital. They walked for five days before the military showed up and started shooting, forcing them to hide for two days with no food or water. The entire time, Eden was afraid they would get caught. She knew there are penalties for evading or deserting the service. In the end, they decided to go back to Asmara. There, the smuggler called, urging them to continue the journey. Eden, along with four others from the original group, decided to try a second time, and about a week later, they arrived at the Ethiopian border.

"I miss my family. They didn’t support my wish to leave and my aunt considers me a thief. The only family I have now are the girls I stay with."

In the camp, Eden shares a small house with five young women her age. They didn’t know each other before they arrived but have become good friends. All of them left their families and fled their home country in similar fashion. Eden has not been in touch with her parents since she left, but when the internet works, she chats with her sister on Facebook. Earlier this week, she called her brother in Germany.

"He doesn’t want me to leave for Europe and keeps telling me to stay in the camp because there will be opportunities for me in Ethiopia."

Will either fail or succeed
Eden has made up her mind.

"As I see it, I have two options in life: to succeed or to fail. I have heard it’s very difficult, but as long as going through Sudan and Libya is the only way to reach Europe, that’s what I want to do."

Eden is not alone. Most of the Eritrean refugees leave the camps within the first year of their arrival. Many attempt the journey to Europe, often with assistance of smugglers and at great risk to their lives.

"The only reason I’m still here is that it has become more difficult to go. My plan is to go, and I will take the same route as everybody else. I don’t know when. It could be tomorrow, the day after, in a month or a year, but as soon as the sea-border is open, I will go."

Big plans
Eden spends her time in the camp planning for the future. Along with her roommate Winta, 23, she goes to cooking classes at the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) youth education centre in the camp.

"I am very happy that I have not wasted my year in the camp. Unlike others, who just sit around doing nothing, I have studied and worked hard," she says with a smile.

The next day, she will sit the cooking exam that will give her the Ethiopian government’s official certificate. She is not nervous.

“I am feeling fine. I am well prepared, and our teachers have been very good, so I hope I will pass.”

On the day of her cooking exam, we meet her at the youth education centre. She is wearing her cooking clothes and hat and looks ready.

During the six-month course, she has learned how to cook various meals, make sauces and bake bread. She has followed lessons in proper kitchen hygiene, learned how to make the table and serve customers. On examination day, she is showing her skills to the examination proctor from the Ethiopian government.

An hour later, she has a big smile on her face. She passed the exam.

“I have got a lot of plans,” she says, serving us freshly made club sandwiches, potato bread and salad. “I would like to work in the restaurant of a big hotel, preferably in Europe. Then, with time, I want to open my own restaurant. I will call it Asmara.” Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC
Neglected crises

Why are some crises ignored?

On 5 June 2019, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) will release this year’s list of the world’s ten most neglected displacement crises. These are crises that receive little attention in the media, where politicians are not prioritising finding solutions and where donor countries are not allocating enough funds. How can this happen?


Lack of political will

“Often, it is due to a lack of political will. The countries on the list are considered to be of little strategic and economic importance. Consequently, there is no international interest in contributing to a solution to the conflicts. This is the case in the Central African Republic, number three on last year’s list,” says Tiril Skarstein. She’s an NRC team leader and has been involved in preparing this year’s list of neglected displacement crises.

In other conflicts, the opposite is the case: there are many actors with conflicting political interests, and no-one is willing to compromise. This has been the case in Yemen and Palestine, also on last year’s list. These are crises where the civilian population’s best interests have taken a back seat to political interests.

The lack of political will to find a solution to a crisis is one of three criteria that NRC uses when compiling its list of the world’s most neglected crises. The other two criteria are lack of media attention and lack of funding for humanitarian aid.

See the neglected crises list here.

Lack of media attention

Why do the media choose to highlight some crises and not others? 

“Proximity is a key word. The closer we are to a crisis geographically, the more attention we give it, and the easier it is for us to identify with the people affected. Proximity and identification are two important news criteria,” says Skarstein.

One example is the so-called migrant crisis of 2015, when a large number of refugees came to Europe. As a consequence, the European media became very interested in the countries that people had fled from, such as Syria. When we know someone who has fled from a crisis, we are more likely to care about it.

Another issue is that it is extremely difficult for journalists to work in some of the countries on the list. This inevitably means that some crises receive less attention than others.

Lack of funding

Crises that receive little international attention and little media coverage tend not to receive the financial support needed to meet acute humanitarian aid needs.

The extent of the media coverage of a crisis is often a poor indicator of which areas are in the greatest need.

“Humanitarian aid must be given on the basis of need, but unfortunately, it’s easier to obtain funding for crises that receive a lot of attention from politicians and the media,” Skarstein explains.

Great needs, little attention

The humanitarian aid needs are great in all the countries on this year’s list, which will be released on 5 June. Several of the ten countries on the list are in Africa.

“There seems to be a tendency for crises on the African continent to receive less attention. Many of the people who are affected will never have the opportunity to reach Europe or the United States, and the vast majority remain in their own country or flee to relatively poor neighbouring countries. Unfortunately, it seems that the people affected by these crises are often ‘out of sight, out of mind’,” says Skarstein.

We must not forget about these crises

The most important thing for these countries now is to put political solutions in place. It’s the only way we can end the suffering.

There is also a need for acute humanitarian aid. To stand any chance at all of bringing about political solutions, we must take the first step of meeting the most acute needs for aid. Hungry stomachs, a lack of work and a lack of opportunities to feed your family do not make a good starting point for stability.

“We make this list to remind ourselves and others that some crises need increased attention. This is the only way we can create change,” says Skarstein. “We must make sure that we talk more about these crises, that we work to give the people who are affected a voice, and that we make sure the aid provided is based on needs – and not just on where it is easiest to get money.”