By Libby Smith

DENVER (CBS4) – War broke out in Ethiopia four months ago. Government troops have been fighting with forces in the state of Tigray, which is located in northern Ethiopia. Hundreds of people have died in the fighting and thousands more have been forced to flee their homes. The war is heartbreaking for many in Colorado’s Ethiopian community.

(credit CBS)

Chanting slogans like “Silence is Violence” and “U.S. Act Now,” Ethiopians in Colorado have taken to the Denver streets eight times to raise awareness about the genocide happening in their home country.

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“We’ve just been screaming at the top of our lungs just trying to get the world to respond, to try to get the world to listen,” said Millete Birhanemaskel, an American of Ethiopian descent.

The protestors want the world to respond to the humanitarian crisis in their home country. Fighting broke out in November between the Ethiopian National Defense Force and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in the northern state, and it’s the civilian residents of the state that are the collateral damage.

(credit CBS)

“I’m from that area, and I’ve got family there who we’re really uncertain about. Where they’re at and what their situation is,” Birhanemaskel explained.

Birhanemaskel and her family came to Colorado in the 80’s. She’s a real estate agent, and owns a neighborhood coffee shop in Denver. But now she spends every spare minute trying to find out what’s happening in Tigray.

“The only thing I know for sure is that my Mom’s aunt was killed,” she told CBS4.

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Devastating news, some of the little information that Birhanemaskel has been able to gather. Internet and phone services are cut in the area, and journalists have been kicked out. Birhanemaskel was so frustrated, she went to Sudan, where 63,000 Tigrayans are seeking refuge.

Tigrayan refugee displays the scars of war. (credit Millete Birhanemaskel)

“To go back and those camps to be full again… with people who are fleeing for their lives. Some people who left their children behind, some children who saw their parents killed, it’s horrifying. It’s horrifying,” she said with tears in her eyes.

The conditions in the camps are minimal at best, but these people traveled hundreds of miles to escape the fighting, many carrying the scars of war.

“We know that refugees that are going into Sudan are coming in worse and worse condition, emaciated, more horror stories of rape and killings,” Birhanemaskel recounted.

World aid organizations are being stopped from getting food into the area, and human rights groups are calling it a crisis. A crisis that strikes the hearts of 50,000 Ethiopians living in Colorado.

Camp Tenedba in Sudan (credit Millete Birhanemaskel)

“Yea, this war is thousands of miles away from us, but I feel like every Tigrayan is in the middle of this war.”

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Birhanemaskel, and all the protestors, want Coloradans to get informed about the situation, advocate for a special U.S. Envoy to the region, and ask the State’s congressional delegation to support sanctions against the Ethiopian government.

Libby Smith