Caught in the Middle, Part 2: Asylum in Sweden, but the Family is waiting in Sudan

Caught in the Middle, Part 2. Elsa's husband, Yosef, has arrived in Sweden, but he has not been able to bring his family there as well yet.

“Our home countries are at war, but this does not stand in the way of our love. We embrace even though our governments are enemies, and we are raising our children to be tolerant and caring” (Yosef Goitom Berhane).

Yosef is from Eritrea,while his wife Elsa is originally from Ethiopia. They met in Sudan, where they were both born to refugee parents. In the meantime, Yosef has been granted asylum in Sweden. But, as the first short film “Caught in the Middle” shows, Elsa and their two children are still in Sudan awaiting their chance to join Yosef, which is proving to be incredibly difficult.

Eritrea: 30 Years of War

The origins of the Eritrean-Ethiopian war can be traced back to the colonial era. Back then, Eritrea was an Italian colony, while its neighbor Ethiopia was able to remain largely independent. After World War II, the UN formulated a confederation agreement that was meant to propitiate Ethiopian claims to sovereignty and Eritrean demands for independence. This agreement saw Eritrea become part of Ethiopia, but with its own parliament and administration.

However, Emperor Haile Selassie revoked Eritrea's cultural and political semi-autonomy step by step in the years following the agreement. As a result, the Eritrean Liberation Front took up arms in 1961. The war of independence – that also saw infighting between Eritrean fractions – lasted for 30 years and claimed about several hundred thousand victims. In May 1991, the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) gained control over the capital Asmara, leading Eritrea to independence in 1993.

Born a Refugee

In the 1970s, hundreds of thousands Eritreans fled from the fighting. Yosef's parents met in Sudan, where he was born as the child of refugees. Before he was one year old, his father left the family to continue fighting for Eritrea's independence. Growing up in Sudan, Yosef saw his mother being harassed by state officials and police again and again. He realized that he would never be at home in Sudan and left for Eritrea when he was 20 years old, in order to find not only his father, but a true home as well.

Like most Eritreans, Yosef hoped that the young state's political system would be based on equality and liberty. But his expectations were quickly shattered when he was conscripted into the military. Officially, military service in Eritrea lasts 18 months, but many soldiers have to serve for over a decade. Eye witnesses report severe violations of human rights within the army: torture, sexual abuse, physical punishment and forced labor are commonplace. Not only desertion, but even the loss of a weapon may be punished by death.

State of Origin: Eritrea

Every month, 4,000 to 5,000 people flee from Eritrea – a country with an overall population of only 5.1 million. The regime headed by president Afewerki has installed a totalitarian dictatorship governed by a one-party-system. In 2016, Eritrea came in last in the World Press Freedom Index. In 2015, a UN commission published a report that spoke of systematic, widespread and severe violations of human rights. According to the following report in 2016, around 300,000 to 400,000 people are living in slavery-like conditions.

According to the International Organization for Migration, over 94,000 refugees from Eritrea came to Europe via the Mediterranean between 2014 and 2016 – putting Eritrea in fifth place worldwide for people fleeing their country of origin to seek refuge in Europe. These figures do not even reflect the sad reality that many people die en route. At the Eritrean border, refugees are shot at. In border areas, people are abducted in order to extort money from their families. And thousands die every year trying to cross the Mediterranean.

Family Reunification: Arrived in Sweden, but the Family has to wait

Yosef embarks on the dangerous journey to Europe on his own. He survived and - after two years - is granted asylum in Sweden. In the past, the Swedish government had a great awareness of the situation in Eritrea and granted nearly all of its citizens asylum. But, like many other European states the Swedish government tightened their asylum laws when over a million refugees reached Europe in 2015. This applies particularly to family reunification regulations. The applicant must have a regular income and adequate accommodations in order to be allowed to bring their family to Europe. This is a very high hurdle for refugees like Yosef, who are traumatized by their past – whether from Eritrea or their flight – and are only just becoming acquainted with Swedish society themselves. For these reasons, Yosef has not been able to bring his family to join him.

Currently, Yosef is concentrating on learning the Swedish language so he can find a job soon. But fear for his family's safety is a constant companion. He knows that his wife and children are at the mercy of the Sudanese Police and facing possible deportation every day. Correspondently, he cannot help but feel despair and helplessness.

“Life is closed off. All I want is for my family to be safe”, Yosef says.


Contact: Axel 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.

Caught in the Middle – Migration in Ethiopia. “I do not want my children to live in fear, like I did”. A short film about Ethiopian refugees in Sudan.

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]