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"Lost Boy" among graduates ending Ethiopian exile to help rebuild South Sudan

News Stories, 17 August 2007

© UNHCR/K.G.Egziabher
Makuei Joseph Magai (right) and Simon Pech hold their college diplomas. They plan to help rebuild South Sudan.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, August 17 (UNHCR) South Sudan desperately needs people like Makuei Joseph Magai and Simon Pech. The two 27-year-old refugees, armed with valuable college degrees, left the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa last Monday for the town of Juba in their devastated homeland.

They were among a group of five men holding degrees from Ethiopian institutions in a wide range of important development-linked subjects who were taking advantage of a voluntary repatriation programme for Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia launched by the UN refugee agency in March last year.

Magai and Pech both gained their higher education degrees through UNHCR's annual DAFI scholarship programme, more formally known as the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative. The German government-funded programme grants deserving young refugees scholarships at universities, colleges and polytechnics in their host countries.

The main aim of the DAFI programme is to contribute to human resources development as part of a broader UNHCR strategy of promoting self-reliance and durable solutions for refugees. Magai and Pech's expertise will allow them to contribute to the resurrection of South Sudan, where years of war destroyed infrastructure and left the economy in tatters before a 2005 peace accord.

The 27-year-old Magai, one of the so-called "Lost Boys" who fled southern Sudan without their families, recently graduated from northern Ethiopia's Makalle University with a bachelor's degree in dryland agriculture and horticultural science.

"I would like to go home and use my knowledge for the betterment of my country and people," he said before heading home. "I believe I have acquired this knowledge at a crucial time, when South Sudan needs more skilled and educated men and women to make it a prosperous country."

It has been quite an achievement for Magai, who was illiterate when he first fled to Ethiopia in 1988 at the start of a peripatetic journey that took him over the years back to Sudan and on to Kenya before returning to Ethiopia. But he worries about his parents and siblings, whom he has not seen in two decades.

Pech, who fled South Sudan in 1997, was also keen to help make a difference back home with his economics degree from Bahir Dar University in north-western Ethiopia. "I am a qualified economist and would like to be given the opportunity to help lead my native Unity State out extreme economic deprivation," he said, flashing a broad smile.

As security improves, more people are opting to return to South Sudan, including professionals and college graduates from neighbouring countries and further afield. They include the Lost Boys some 12,000 orphaned or unaccompanied young refugees of whom 3,600 were resettled in the United States in recent years after making epic journeys to reach sanctuary overseas.

UNHCR is fully supportive of the educated Sudanese who are returning home. "South Sudan today needs to build a strong local capacity that is the key for the continuing reconstruction process and these educated returnees will no doubt play a catalytic role," said Cosmas Chanda, deputy representative of UNHCR's Regional Liaison Office for Africa. They could also encourage other members of the South Sudan diaspora to return.

In the seven years it has been involved in promoting higher education in Ethiopia, the DAFI programme has funded the education of hundreds of refugees, most of them Sudanese. They have studied subjects ranging from engineering and economics to medical science and agriculture.

The UN refugee agency has helped more than 20,000 Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia to go back home. The repatriation operation was suspended in May due to heavy rains, but it is expected to resume in November. In total, some 157,000 refugees have so far returned to southern Sudan with or without UNHCR help.

By Kisut Gebre Egziabher in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia




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Education is vital in restoring hope and dignity to young people driven from their homes.

DAFI Scholarships

The German-funded Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative provides scholarships for refugees to study in higher education institutes in many countries.

South Sudan Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Donate now and help to provide emergency aid to tens of thousands of people fleeing South Sudan to escape violence.

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Seeds of Hope

20 Years of DAFI: A UNHCR exhibition highlights the impact of higher education for refugee communities.

Chad: Education in Exile

UNHCR joins forces with the Ministry of Education and NGO partners to improve education for Sudanese refugees in Chad.

The ongoing violence in Sudan's western Darfur region has uprooted two million Sudanese inside the country and driven some 230,000 more over the border into 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.

Although enrolment in the camp schools in Chad is high, attendance is inconsistent. A shortage of qualified teachers and lack of school supplies and furniture make it difficult to keep schools running. In addition, many children are overwhelmed by household chores, while others leave school to work for local Chadian families. Girls' attendance is less regular, especially after marriage, which usually occurs by the age of 12 or 13. For boys and young men, attending school decreases the possibility of recruitment by various armed groups operating in the area.

UNHCR and its partners continue to provide training and salaries for teachers in all 12 refugee camps, ensuring a quality education for refugee children. NGO partners maintain schools and supply uniforms to needy students. And UNICEF is providing books, note pads and stationary. In August 2007 UNHCR, UNICEF and Chad's Ministry of Education joined forces to access and improve the state of education for Sudanese uprooted by conflict in Darfur.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Chad: Education in Exile

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UNHCR works with the government of Colombia to address the needs of children displaced by violence.

Two million people are listed on Colombia's National Register for Displaced People. About half of them are under the age of 18, and, according to the Ministry of Education, only half of these are enrolled in school.

Even before displacement, Colombian children attending school in high-risk areas face danger from land mines, attacks by armed groups and forced recruitment outside of schools. Once displaced, children often lose an entire academic year. In addition, the trauma of losing one's home and witnessing extreme violence often remain unaddressed, affecting the child's potential to learn. Increased poverty brought on by displacement usually means that children must work to help support the family, making school impossible.

UNHCR supports the government's response to the educational crisis of displaced children, which includes local interventions in high-risk areas, rebuilding damaged schools, providing school supplies and supporting local teachers' organizations. UNHCR consults with the Ministry of Education to ensure the needs of displaced children are known and planned for. It also focuses on the educational needs of ethnic minorities such as the Afro-Colombians and indigenous people.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

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Bonga camp is located in the troubled Gambella region of western Ethiopia. But it remains untouched by the ethnic conflicts that have torn nearby Gambella town and Fugnido camp in the last year.

For Bonga's 17,000 Sudanese refugees, life goes on despite rumblings in the region. Refugee children continue with school and play while their parents make ends meet by supplementing UNHCR assistance with self-reliance projects.

Cultural life is not forgotten, with tribal ceremonies by the Uduk majority. Other ethnic communities – Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians – are welcome too, judging by how well hundreds of newcomers have settled in after their transfer from Fugnido camp in late 2002.

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

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