Caught in the Middle

“I do not want my children to live in fear, like I did”. A short film about Ethiopian refugees in Sudan.

The children of Ethiopian refugees born in Sudan often live with a dilemma. On the one hand, Sudan does not acknowledge many of them as refugees, relegating them to a life-long asylum seeker status. This means that they have to renew their asylum application every three months and face deportation at any time. On the other hand, they are not able to return to their country of origin Ethiopia, because their parents were in the opposition, their country is a war zone or because a humane life is not possible due to the poor economic situation.

Elsa is precisely in this situation and as such representative of the hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians who had to flee war, political persecution and hunger in the last decades. When a military junta seized power in Ethiopia in 1974, a civil war erupted that lasted until 1991. After Major Mengistu Haile Mariam became the regime's leader in 1977, he launched the Red Terror campaign in order to suppress all opposition. In only two years, tens of thousands of people were victims of torture, death squads and mass executions. According to Human Rights Watch, about half a million people were killed until Mengistu was ousted in 1991.

Born a Refugee

Elsa’s father also fought against the brutal ruler in the late 1970's but had to flee to Sudan when the death squads began looking for him. Elsa's mother was only 16 when her village was burned down, forcing her and her little sister to leave as well.

Elsa was born as the child of Ethiopian refugees in Sudan. As a youth, she had to watch her parents get by with odd jobs, driven by the hope for legal emigration to the West. She herself constantly accompanied her mother to interviews with the United Nations (UN) and filled out applications. Every year, she thought that this would be her last school year in Sudan. But Sudan, the supposed transit country, became home unintentionally

“I always believed that the UN officials would understand that we could not stay here. But nothing happened. However, I do remember the day I asked my mother to buy me some bread. The vendor hit her and said: 'You are Ethiopian and want bread?' From then on, I just withdrew completely.”

Today, most refugees in Sudan have given up the hope of legal migration and see no other choice than the risky passage across the Mediterranean. But crossing the Libyan desert is already fraught with danger: Criminals abduct migrants in order to harvest their organs or extort family members. In May 2015, so-called “Islamic State” fighters murdered sixteen people from Ethiopia and Eritrea, documenting the executions in a video.

On sea, people are dependent on bands of traffickers who often use boats that are much too small and unseaworthy in order to minimize costs. In 2015, at least 3,770 people drowned, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). This year, the estimated number of dead already exceeds 4,700.

Elsa's husband has made it to Europe and was granted asylum in Sweden. But now, he is confronted with nearly unsurmountable bureaucratic hurdles. The reason for this is a new law passed by the Swedish government in June 2016 that was meant to restrict refugee numbers and makes family reunifications considerably more difficult.

On her own, Elsa must once again wait for officials to decide her fate, whilst fearing for her children's safety. A return to Ethiopia is not an option for her: Currently, family members are fleeing to Sudan from their home region. In the past months, clashes between protestors and security forces cost hundreds of people their lives.

“Our only wish is that our fate does not repeat itself and that our children can grow up in safety and receive a good education.”


Contact:Alex Blaschke, director of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s office in Sudan


Short Film Program: “People in Motion” – Why do People leave their Homes? What Paths do they Take?

In cooperation with local partners, the FES international offices produced a short film program that deals with these questions. The films are available on our TOPIC pages “Flight, Migration, Integration”. Please feel free to use them for your own events.


The Route was never the Destination. “We have become migrants....but one day we will arrive.” Short film about a Cuban family that had to flee their country.

Return. In the 90s Lana Mayer fled Croatia for Germany. Now she has returned to Vukovar. This film tells her story.

Move. Three people leave their homes and end up in Namibia. In the short movie “Move”, they reflect upon migration, European double standards and imbalances of power.

The Rainbow-Center of Gaziantep. “Exile offers the chance of overcoming the shadow of violence”. A short film on Syrian dissidents caring for traumatized children.

Chaught in the Middle, Part 2. Elsa's husband, Yosef, has arrived in Sweden. He has not yet been able to bring his family. Part 2 of the short film “ Between Two Stools”.

Jaminton and Yannia are Leaving. Displaced in one's own country. A short film about a family in Colombia who have become internally displaced due to civil war and violence.

Unseen Shadows - Those who are left behind. A short film on the challenges of women and families in India, whose men have migrated in search of work.

Cyber-Mom. A short film about three children from Central American El Salvador who are raised by their grandparents because their parents have migrated to the USA for work.

Asfur - Syrian Refugees in Turkey. "Asfur" gives an insight into the life situation of Syrians who had to flee from the war zone Syria and now living in Hatay (Turkey).

Nowhere Man - Pakistani Refugees in South Korea are fighting for Recognition. The A. Family has fled from Pakistan to South Korea, 6000 miles away. A story that also deals with South Korean asylum policy.

Behind the Sea. The film deals with the story of four Algerians who left their homeland for various reasons and returned to Algeria after a certain time. [only available in german]