Urban refugee in Addis Ababa: Feruz' story

After her father fled Eritrea, his remaining family members were punished so hard by the government that they had no choice but to pack their bags. Ten years later, Feruz (20) is still angry with her father. “I could have been so much more.”

It happened when Feruz was about twelve years old. Her father, a soldier in the Eritrean army, deserted and crossed the border with Sudan and leaving Feruz, her mother, and her two brothers & sister behind. An act of resistance that changed Feruz’s life forever. Not much later, soldiers were at Feruz’s doorstep. They had to surrender their house and land as punishment. The wage their father received as a soldier was immediately frozen, and those left behind were also fined 50,000 Nafka (around 3,000 euros). As if that wasn’t enough, a prison sentence was imminent, meant do discourage others.

When Feruz thinks back to the day her father left, she still gets angry. Although she saw her dad only twice a year, she still remembers how he took family photos when they were together as a family on a rare occasion. Since then, she has never heard from him again. Rumour has it that he is in Sudan, but he could also be in any other country. Why did he leave her? Feruz still wonders every day. “Why did he give birth to us if he doesn’t want us? If he wanted to live with us, he would have. We are the ones who need him the most… I am very angry with my father; I could be in a better place. Instead, I can’t do anything and have to care for my mother. I could have been so much more.”


On the run

Now that her father had left and made the life of those left behind impossible, Feruz and her family had no choice but to leave the country. “I was young when this happened, but I still remember well. We fled just after midnight. My mother carried my younger brother, and my brother and sister walked beside her. In my dreams, I still hear people screaming. I can see us walking through the desert – I see the sand and the thorns. The spikes made me bleed, and I remember that we were not allowed to talk to anyone because it was dangerous.”


In my dreams, I still hear people screaming.

Once in Ethiopia, the family ended up in Addis. “At the start, our life here was pretty good. My older brother took care of us. However, one day, about two years ago, he decided to leave and take the dangerous route to Europe. We think he went to make money for us, but we never heard from him again. I miss him terribly; he was a very good person. He prayed a lot and was a lovely boy. Now that my brother has left, the responsibility for looking after the family lies with me. Since our life in Eritrea, nothing has improved. My father is still missing, and my mother is so traumatized that she doesn’t talk anymore. I can’t go to school. When we arrived in Ethiopia, we were in a camp for a while. There, people told us that life would be better because the government would support us here. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case; we receive no support here.”



“Although I attend school because I have to take care of my mother, I was fortunate that ZOA gave me the opportunity to participate in a training course to learn how to process our traumas. The training helped me better deal with my problems, and I learned how to start a business. I also learned to be creative and how to earn money. This helped me a lot. I am shy by nature, but I learned to communicate in the right way. I now know that there is a solution to every problem.

ZOA gave me a bread maker to support me. Although I don’t use it that much right now, I am really happy with it. Especially on holidays, I use the machine to make bread.”


“In the future, I would like to work as a hairdresser here in Addis, although it is my dream to travel to Australia. I think it is a beautiful country and have heard that the people there are very religious. Religion is essential to me – I live by the grace and power of God. I try to live a good life and pray a lot. God helps me to be positive and grateful. At the same time, I miss my country. I miss my friends from the past and the place where I was born. A few months ago, my friends from Eritrea were visiting Addis. We talked for hours about our lives. It was nice to see them again after such a long time, laughing about things that happened during our childhood. If my father had not left, I think we would still be in Eritrea.”

ZOA Ethiopia aims to support urban refugees by giving psychosocial and business trainings to teenagers and young adults. In 2019 ZOA started a project with a well known IT company to provide internships and trainings for 30 young people. This project aims to fight unemployment in Ethiopia