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

“The biggest gift is having my friends around me”

One moment, Aklilu was a high-flying engineering student with a bright future ahead of him. The next, he was a refugee living in a makeshift tent. But Aklilu refuses to give up. In the camp where he now lives, he has formed a youth association with a group of fellow students. Together, they are determined to make life better for their community.

Orange Christmas bauble with a hand holding a heart

In November 2020, Aklilu packed his bags for a trip. He was travelling back to his university in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. He had spent a few months with his family in Humera, a small town nestled in the most north-western part of the country, due to the Covid-19 lockdown. Aklilu was excited to finally resume classes and graduate.

Like other soon-to-be graduates, Aklilu was already job hunting and had plans to celebrate. “I’ll see you in five weeks for our graduation ceremony,” he told his friends in Humera.

We never expected this could happen. I had heard there were issues, but to me they were just politics.
Aklilu

A few hours later mortar-fire ripped through the town. It signalled the start of a conflict between the federal government of Ethiopia and armed groups in the Tigray region. Aklilu hurried across the border into Sudan – one of 60,000 Ethiopians who have since poured into Sudan in search of safety.

gifts-that-save-lives_home_2021_1024x448.jpg

Life under tarpaulin

Aklilu fled with nothing, leaving his education in Ethiopia behind. Once a top civil engineering student, he now lives in a refugee camp and waits for updates about the war back home. 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.

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
Read caption Aklilu, with Um Rakuba refugee camp in the background. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

When Aklilu first arrived at the Um Rakuba refugee camp, he lived with his family under a blue tarp that hung over a makeshift wooden framework. A latrine was nearby and the smell overpowered the aroma of the coffee his grandmother made each morning.

A few weeks later, the family relocated to another space and were given a white tent with a good-sized opening in the front and back. But in the rainy season the tent became a parachute. Aklilu became bleary eyed from holding the tent down each night to stave off the winds.

Ads_web_GMM_1024x448_ENG13.jpg

“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 time,” says Aklilu.

Educations put on hold

Some 1,655 other Tigrayan university students are currently living in refugee camps in Sudan. They feel abandoned.

“A result of the conflict in Ethiopia is that some of the brightest minds in the country are confined to refugee camps in Sudan,” says Will Carter, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) country director in Sudan. “If these students are given a chance somewhere, they’ll be a spark for whoever accepts them.”

Many hurdles stand in the way of Aklilu getting his degree. When the violence started, he and many others fled and left behind their identity cards and education records. As result, they are now unable to provide proof of who they are or how far they have progressed at university. Money is also an issue.

We might not find a job for a long time. We will be wasting a lot of time in our life.
Aklilu

Recently, Aklilu has been exploring going to a university in Ghana under a scholarship. However, such scholarships tend to mean that students lose all the progress they have made to date and have to start from scratch.

Aklilu is frustrated that he may have to spend another five years studying for a civil engineering degree he was only five weeks away from receiving.

“We are waiting to find a university that will accept the credit we have from our university back home. If we start over, we will be 30 years old by the time we graduate. We might not find a job for a long time. We will be wasting a lot of time in our life,” says Aklilu.

“Like being in a prison”

Life in Um Rakuba camp is frustrating for young people who are used to being able to travel freely to study and seek work.

“The worst thing about living in the camp is that there is no movement,” Aklilu explains. “It’s like being in a prison. It’s difficult, because everyone needs to have his own freedom to work freely and to do whatever he wants.

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
Read caption “The worst thing about living in the camp is that there is no movement,” Aklilu explains. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

Sudan’s 2014 Asylum Act gives refugees the right to move and seek an education, but in reality, they are restricted to the camp. The encampment policy prevents residents from leaving the site, limiting their access to jobs and markets.

Silvia Beccacece, a former area manager with NRC, explains:

“Ethiopian refugees cannot leave the camp unless they acquire a permit from the authorities for worthwhile reasons, linked to education, health or jobs. Unfortunately, these permits are very hard to get – so it becomes a vicious circle. Refugees can’t get opportunities to leave the camp if they can’t leave the camp to look for them.”

gifts-that-save-lives_entrepreneur_2021_1024x448.jpg

Support in togetherness

Despite all the hardships, the students in the camp have found support in togetherness. They have formed a group, called the Tigrayan Refugees University Students in Sudan Association, or TRUSS.

Aklilu is one of the founding members. “If we share our feelings and if we are together, it will be easier,” he says.

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

Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC
Read caption Aklilu relaxes with a group of friends. “The biggest gift in my life is having my friends around me,” he says. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

As well as working towards their education, the students of TRUSS are acting as community mobilisers, along with other young people in the camp.

“The community needs so many things here in the camp, and we can contribute something for them,” Aklilu continues. “We are planning how to make this camp comfortable both for the youth and for the community. That’s what we are doing as an association and as a group. Because to be together is very important.”

“I haven’t lost hope”

Every Friday morning, members of the association gather in a communal tent for their weekly meeting. They have organised themselves into committees and are planning their week ahead.

One group will fundraise among camp residents to help an isolated elderly woman in the camp. Another group will meet other students and young people to connect them with aid organisations.

The thing that makes me optimistic is that I have friends here, and I’m discussing with them about what to do for the future.
Aklilu

TRUSS members have been helping organisations like NRC to rebuild shelters, organise cash distributions and register children in school, as well as raising community issues. They receive stipends from aid organisations, which help them support their families.

“I haven’t lost hope,” says Aklilu. “The thing that makes me optimistic is that I have friends here, and I’m discussing with them about what to do for the future. Even though it is not like a plan, we can share our daily activities.

“The biggest gift in my life is having my friends around me.”

***

How NRC is helping

We are present in Um Rakuba camp, supporting refugees with shelter kits so they can rebuild and reinforce shelters destroyed by the rain. We also distribute cash so that residents can meet their basic needs, as well as other essential items such as dignity kits for women and girls.

When refugees started arriving into Um Rakuba, NRC was one of the first aid agencies to provide education. Right now, we have four schools in the camp, and we also distribute learning materials such as school bags, notebooks, water bottles and pencils. Our education activities are generously funded by Education Cannot Wait.

Read more about our work in Sudan