On the opposite side of Sudan from the better-known crisis of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the conflict-plagued Darfur region, refugees are flocking into the eastern part of the vast African country at the rate of 1,800 each month, according to latest United Nations estimates.
The 66,000 refugees in camps in eastern Sudan – mainly from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia – face difficulties accessing basic services, education and protection, creating immense challenges in harsh surroundings, Africa Bureau Director of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) George Okoth-Obbo said.
“Acute poverty, persistent drought and deprivation, lack of access to health care and education, high levels of unemployment as well as land degradation and shrinking pastures” are hardships that refugees as well as the local population grapple with, he added.
Risks that female refugees in particular face are human trafficking, sexual violence, abuse and rape, he stressed, adding that ensuring protection is a high priority for UNHCR.
“Six thousand of these children lack primary education because refugee schools have not the capacity to absorb them,” he said, noting that there are 15,000 children in the 12 refugee camps in the East. “Many more fail to attend secondary school because families cannot afford the fees.”
Speaking about Sudanese refugees, Mr. Okoth-Obbo mentioned the successful repatriation in the south of nearly 330,000 refugees from neighbouring countries, 75 per cent of those in exile at the beginning of 2005, when the Government and southern rebels signed a peace agreement ending one of Africa’s longest and bloodiest civil wars.
In Darfur, nearly seven years of war between the Government, its militia allies and rebels seeking greater autonomy have killed at least 300,000 people and driven 2.7 million more from their homes.