Recognizing My Sister in a Video of Refugees from the Sudan War

Recognizing My Sister in a Video of Refugees from the Sudan War
Nerayo Ghebru Tesfamichael Luwam Gebru said people smugglers were taking her across Sudan's war zone to Libya

Tragic Refugee Crisis in Sudan and Its Impact on Eritrea
The international community has taken notice of the situation of Eritrean refugees trapped in the middle of the intensifying turmoil in Sudan in recent months. Mihret Gebru’s terrifying discovery that her sister Luwam was one of the hostages in two now-viral films depicting armed men in Sudan beating and assaulting refugees from the Horn of Africa is just one of many tragic stories.

Evading Military Service
Mihret and Luwam are sisters from the notoriously conscription-crazed Eritrea. Luwam is one of many young Eritreans who leave their homeland in search of a better life. While Luwam found safety in Ethiopia in 2019, she still faces what seems like an unending wait every day as a refugee. Enduring the treacherous trek across Sudan to reach Libya in late 2022, just a few months after violence broke out in Sudan, was Luwam’s desperate hope for a better life.

Descending Into Anarchy
Conflict between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in April 2023 threw the country into instability. Luwam and other refugees and new migrants were not as lucky as foreign nationals, who were evacuated immediately. Many times they were taken as prisoners of war and handled with mistrust.

After Luwam called from Sudan to reassure her family that she was okay, Mihret describes how her sister remained painfully silent for almost a month. Only in April 2023, after five months of relative quiet, did disturbing videos surface on social media.

Social media
Luwam Gebru, in her orange scarf, was pictured with other foreigners in an image thought to be from April

Apprehended and Held
BBC According to Verify’s findings, the films were posted on April 7th and 8th. They show about fifty captives, who a general in the Sudanese army described as “mercenaries from Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia” aboard a vehicle. After escaping the intense combat near the al-Jaily oil refinery, these people were taken to the army’s Wadi Seidna outpost.

In a cramped warehouse room, Mihret saw her sister, recognizable by her bright orange scarf, among the detainees. Despite the identification, her family still doesn’t know what happened to her; they’ve just been told that the captives are in the custody of the Sudanese government.

Refugees from Eritrea Vanish Without a Trace
There are other Eritreans who have similar tragic tales to tell. Last year, Edmon Kidane, 20, and Yonatan Tesfaslassie, 17, fled Eritrea together and are now residing in a refugee camp in eastern Sudan’s Kassala state, which the United Nations administers. Smugglers enticed them with the promise of a safe exit from Sudan. The problem was that the smugglers left them to their own devices.

Yonatan was last heard from by his family in Wad Madani, a city south of Khartoum, as he embarked on a migration towards South Sudan. Those who were able to cross the border later informed Yonatan’s sister Winta Tesfaslassie, that the town of Rabek, which was under army control, might have detained him. His loved ones are waiting impatiently for word on his whereabouts, which could be in Sinjah or Sennar.

Hundreds of thousands of people fled Wad Madani ahead of the RSF taking the city in December

Uncertainty was also a problem for Edmon Kidane’s family. Reportedly, Edmon was apprehended by the Sudanese army after his last known whereabouts in Wad Madani. The family was in pain since they lost touch with the smuggler who had given them information.

According to reports from International Response and Hope, a military installation in Wad Madani arrested more than 200 migrants of different countries prior to the RSF advance. With almost 147,000 Eritreans and 70,000 Ethiopians in Sudan, the United Nations refugee agency has received comparable accounts on the incarceration of refugees and asylum seekers. Relatives are being urged to report missing family members as the agency organizes a verification expedition to Sennar state.

While the ICRC has made it a priority to assist families in reestablishing contact with loved ones, it recognizes the difficulty in doing so owing to security concerns and limited access. Calling their hotline or visiting their offices in Sudan will help families open cases.

Embracing Mercy
The fighting in Sudan has killed more than 15,000 people, and there has been no sign of a truce despite attempts by other countries. Families of refugees who have gone missing are in an unbearable state of uncertainty.

Adiam Kidane
A smuggler told Edmon Kidane’s family that the young man was detained by the military in Wad Madani

The family of Winta Tesfaslassie has appealed to the Sudanese government, saying, “Please help us, the UN, anyone…” We’re at our wit’s end. We kindly request that the Sudanese authorities permit us to listen to their voices. These young people are innocent and have fled their nation in search of safety in South Sudan; we implore the army to let them go.

The tragic plight of Luwam, Yonatan, and Edmon, along with many other Eritrean exiles ensnared in the Sudanese civil war, demands immediate action from the international community and humanitarian aid.


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