Geneva Palais briefing note on the situation of Ethiopian children fleeing into Sudan and UNICEF’s response

20 November 2020

GENEVA, 20 November 2020 - This is a summary of what was said by Abdullah Fadil, UNICEF Representative in Sudan – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

“The first thing that we noticed is that about 45 per cent of refugees are children under 18 years old.

“The second thing is that people left with little. Even though some have come with their animals, their belongings and harvest, the majority have come with nothing.

“Schools had already re-opened in Ethiopia in September, so schooling for these children has now been disrupted. There is no opportunity that we can foresee for school children to continue their regular education in the foreseeable future, at least for the coming months.

“Children are not malnourished, and we are doing the normal checks. But if the health and sanitation situation is not improved, diseases can start to spread.

“UNICEF is checking the immunization status of children among the new arrivals, and they are being vaccinated against the different diseases. Newly arrived refugee children will also be included in the upcoming nation-wide polio campaign, which starts on 28 November and we need to ensure these displaced children are also included in the routine vaccinations whether it is for measles or other diseases.

“We are planning for an escalation of up to 200,000 refugees. Our serious concern is if we do not act quickly with the resources needed...this could unravel not only Ethiopia but also Sudan.

“With all of our partners, not only the UN agencies but also the NGOs we are working closely to ensure that all of the needed assistance is available quickly but we could soon be overwhelmed. Already 31,000 people have arrived in a period of less than two weeks. We are receiving 4,000-5,000 a day on average and if this rate continues, it is not sustainable.

“We are also advocating with the national government for the land that is needed.

“And most importantly as you can see all of us coming here together, we are working at one UN system under the leadership of the UNHCR which is our lead agency for refugees and this is a strong message we want to send. One voice, one response, together.

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“The people we have seen, we have seen them to be scared, we saw panic and fear in the eyes of many children, especially those who might have witnessed artillery fire or airplanes dropping bombs. We could see that many families fled in a hurry and did not have many belongings with them.

“We have not heard specific details of the alleged crimes inside the country. We have not specifically asked or heard of atrocities at the border, people are careful of the information they share. We actually saw families going back to collect more assets such as beds, donkey-carts which were being carted across the river when we were there.

“These people are worried about the families they left behind, worried about their country. We could also see they were a mix of farmers and professionals - including medical doctors and bankers. Some of the people were well-off and able to buy their own food.

“Sudan is already facing an economic crisis. Sudan is hosting over 1.2 million refugees already and has over 2 million IDPs. The inflation rate is over 240 per cent. There are lines for fuel and bread. So, Sudan is burdened with a lot of its own economic and political issues, and having 200,000 more refugees is something it cannot afford.

“And yet Sudan has opened its doors to tens of thousands of people. Our serious concern is that what happens here will have repercussions not only for Sudan or Ethiopia but for the entire region. We hope the international community responds.

“From our perspective, we don’t think that children should not be exposed to unnecessary violence for decades and decades. This is our concern. As our Executive Director mentioned in her statement yesterday, we want the violence to stop so that more children are not displaced.

“The Humanitarian Country Team is preparing a Refugee Response Plan, and while we are still assessing the needs, we know that this will become clearer in the next few days. But for now, we need an immediate USD 50 million and this number could possibly increase to USD 200 million if refugees continue to arrive.

“UNICEF’s immediate priorities are to:

  • Continue to distribute jerry cans and hygiene materials, and to support water and sanitation interventions.
  • Reunite children separated from their families and provide psychosocial support for those dealing with shock, trauma and bereavement. This includes setting up child-friendly spaces to enable children to engage in recreational and learning activities
  • Raise awareness of COVID-19 prevention measures by disseminating messaging at the reception centres.
  • Identify and respond to those affected by gender-based violence and other human rights violations.
  • Support health and nutrition interventions, especially for pregnant women and young children.

“The needs are immediate, and they are huge, and require urgent international support to fulfil the basic needs of the displaced refugees including shelter, food and other basic services.”

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