Yasmine Sherif, executive director of Education Can’t Wait, speaks with a young Sudanese refugee in Borota during a field visit with UNHCR in the Chad-Sudan border regions. Credit: ECW
  • by Joyce Chimbi (nairobi and new york)
  • Interpress service

The fighting, which broke out suddenly on April 15, 2023, between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the Sundanese Armed Forces, is Sudan’s third internal war – and has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis the region was already facing.

More than 220,000 people have crossed the borders. Without a ceasefire, it will get even worse as a protracted crisis is in the making. UNHCR estimates that this number could reach 860,000 as the conflict escalates.

Education Cannot Wait’s Executive Director Yasmine Sherif was brought face to face with the effects of the brutal conflict during a recent high-level field mission with UNHCR, UNICEF, Jesuit Refugee Service and local partners to the border regions of Chad and Sudan, where they witnessed the effects of the war. In these remote locations, large numbers of incoming refugees – a majority of women and children – have settled in flimsy temporary homemade tents. Children are particularly vulnerable and urgently need the protection and support that emergency educational interventions provide.

“What we saw is appalling, a heartbreakingly terrible situation that is growing very quickly. In just two days, the number of refugees grew from 30,000 to 60,000, and 70 percent of them were school-age children. But I am encouraged by the commendable work of UNHCR do on the ground.”

The United Nations Global Education Fund responded quickly to the escalating regional refugee crisis in Sudan by announcing a new 12-month grant of US$3 million in first emergencies. Sherif says this is a catalytic fund to help UNHCR and its partners, in close coordination with the Chadian government, kick-start a holistic education program.

Before the new crisis broke out in Sudan and despite being one of the poorest countries in the world, Chad already hosted Africa’s fourth largest refugee population.

“Chad is second last on the Human Development Index, just ahead of South Sudan. The government of Chad shows very progressive policies and generosity. They have very little resources, and yet they accept refugees and provide them with much-needed security,” she notes.

Sherif praised the government’s progressive policy of integrating refugees into its national education system, stressing that it serves as an example for the entire region. The new grant brings ECW’s total investment to support the education of vulnerable children in Chad to over $41 million. ECW and its partners have reached over 830,000 children in the country since 2017, focusing on refugee and internally displaced children, host communities, girls, children with disabilities and other vulnerable children.

Funding is urgently needed and is critical to implementation regional refugee action plan, which includes an estimated cost of $26.5 million for education. While Sudan shares borders with seven countries, including the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Libya and South Sudan, almost all of them are dealing with protracted crises or the effects of years of protracted crisis and require urgent funding to meet the needs of refugees.

“The refugees we met in eastern Chad are in a difficult situation. They fled their homes with hardly anything and are in very remote and hard-to-reach areas where infrastructure is scarce and temperatures rise above 40 degrees Celsius. Without emergency aid from international organizations such as UNHCR and UNICEF, it would be difficult for them to survive for long,” she explains.

Despite the government’s best efforts, Chad is dealing with successive shocks, such as climate-induced disasters, large-scale internal displacement, and the Lake Chad and Central African refugee crises, which have eroded the delivery of basic services.

“ECW has made various investments in Chad, including a multi-year resilience program for vulnerable refugees and internally displaced people and their host communities, and other marginalized children in Chad, which has been running for three years and will be renewed next year. We have also given 2 million USD in response to the floods or climate-induced disasters that hit Chad, says Sherif.

“We are now providing this $3 million catalytic funding to help UNCHR provide immediate access to holistic education to the new cohort of refugees arriving from Sudan. ECW’s holistic support improves school infrastructure and provides school feeding, high-quality teaching materials, mental health , psychotropic drugs. -social services, teacher training and inclusive education methods. We hope this will inspire other donors and contributors to meet the remaining funding gap.”

Chad’s education performance indicators are among the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa, with 56 percent of primary school-aged children out of school.

UNHCR and its partners in Chad require US$8 million to implement the training component of the regional refugee response plan. EWC has provided about 40 percent of the budget; the international community should help with the remaining 60 percent. Sherif hopes that additional support will also come for UNICEF and partners to cater to the host communities, who also need support to access quality education.

Incoming refugees live in precarious conditions, lack the most basic facilities and need urgent assistance and empowerment. As conditions become increasingly difficult, ECW funding will provide access to safe and protective learning environments for incoming refugee girls and boys and support host communities.

The depth and scale of this conflict for children and youth is such that their learning and development will most certainly be impaired if immediate access to education is not provided. ECW support offers an opportunity for holistic education to mitigate the debilitating long-term effects of war on young minds.

Runaway children and young people will need immediate psychosocial support and mental health care to cope with the stress, adversity and trauma of the outbreak of violence and their dangerous flight. They will need school food, water and sanitation.

“To the international community, we must act now. This is a moral issue; we must prioritize and show solidarity. Our support must be generous. The world cannot afford to lose an entire generation because of this senseless conflict,” Sherif stressed.

ECW and its strategic partners are committed to reaching 20 million children and youth in crisis over the next four years. To this end, ECW aims to mobilize at least US$1.5 billion from government donors, the private sector and philanthropic foundations.

IPS UN agency report

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© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service