Bright Eritrean refugee in Sudan selected to study in the Netherlands

News Stories, 17 April 2014

© UNHCR/N. Brass
Mohammed Humed was selected to attend the United World Colleges in the Netherlands, a message of hope to young refugees in Sudan who often continue their journey towards Europe through dangerous routes.

KHARTOUM, Sudan, April 17 (UNHCR) When Mohammed Humed fled from Eritrea to the famous Sudanese tourist destination of Kassala, he was not going on holidays. He was looking for a better life, one providing safety and peace.

"We left because we could see there was no freedom or sustainable future," said Mohammed, who is now 17-years-old and has succeeded in the three years since arriving in eastern Sudan better than he ever could have expected.

He was fortunate to have relatives in Kassala who were able to help and did not have to stay in one of the nine refugee camps that currently host some 76,000 refugees in east Sudan.

The government of Sudan has a tradition of hospitality toward refugees. Some Eritreans have been in exile for decades, and their kids have been able to go to public schools or some supported by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). But life is not easy: temperatures reach 45 degrees, movements are restricted, higher education and work opportunities limited.

"I have always wanted to have a good education, which is difficult in Eritrea. Going to school was very important to me," said Mohammed. When, in late 2012, Mohammed heard about the possibility of a scholarship to study abroad, he saw a unique opportunity.

In cooperation with UNHCR and Sudanese authorities, United World Colleges (UWC) was conducting an information campaign throughout Sudan on its scholarship programme. Successful applicants would study at one of the 14 UWC campuses worldwide, after a very competitive selection process.

It is easy to understand why Mohammed was one of four students selected from Sudan in 2013 from 200 applicants. His sparkling eyes and quiet smile are external signs of a very mature young man. He speaks calmly in excellent English and pauses before answering questions.

"He was an extraordinary candidate, we were very happy to nominate him for a full scholarship to study at UWC Maastricht," said Natascha González Pearson, from the UWC Selection Committee for Sudan, whose members are mainly Sudanese volunteers.

Mohammed left for Maastricht, the Netherlands, in September 2013 to start the demanding two-year International Baccalaureate Diploma, which he hopes to pass in 2015.

"I really enjoy school. I have made a lot of friends and people are really open here. It took me some time to adjust in the beginning, it was really cold and the classes were different, but I am fine now; I really love the place, although life is very expensive," Mohammed said in a telephone interview from the Netherlands.

"I often talk to my family in Kassala over the phone and I hope I will be able to visit them during the summer," he said. Asked if they are proud of him, Mohammed does not hesitate: "Of course!"

He is also very proud of being an Eritrean, despite the difficulties "I want to become an engineer and help my country one day. But for now, I cannot envisage going back to Eritrea, I could be arrested."

Every month, between 600 and 800 Eritrean refugees flee from their country to neighbouring Sudan. Most are young, educated and come from urban areas, just like Mohammed.

Forced conscription remains one of the main reasons young Eritreans flee; those as young as 15 are forced into the military.

At least 80 percent of these young refugees leave Sudan and try to reach Europe, often by dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean Sea.

"People will continue to leave Eritrea, unless things change there," concludes Mohammed who is now focusing on his first-year exams.

His safer journey from Eritrea to Europe is not available to many. UWC continues to offer scholarships to talented students and, out of 265 applicants this year, two refugees in Kassala have been selected to attend UWC campuses in Norway and Armenia over the next two years.

By Nicolas Brass in Khartoum

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International Women's Day 2013

Gender equality remains a distant goal for many women and girls around the world, particularly those who are forcibly displaced or stateless. Multiple forms of discrimination hamper their enjoyment of basic rights: sexual and gender-based violence persists in brutal forms, girls and women struggle to access education and livelihoods opportunities, and women's voices are often powerless to influence decisions that affect their lives. Displaced women often end up alone, or as single parents, battling to make ends meet. Girls who become separated or lose their families during conflict are especially vulnerable to abuse.

On International Women's Day, UNHCR reaffirms its commitment to fight for women's empowerment and gender equality. In all regions of the world we are working to support refugee women's participation and leadership in camp committees and community structures, so they can assume greater control over their lives. We have also intensified our efforts to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence, with a focus on emergencies, including by improving access to justice for survivors. Significantly, we are increasingly working with men and boys, in addition to women and girls, to bring an end to dangerous cycles of violence and promote gender equality.

These photographs pay tribute to forcibly displaced women and girls around the world. They include images of women and girls from some of today's major displacement crises, including Syria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and Sudan.

International Women's Day 2013

The Most Important Thing: Syrian Refugees

What would you bring with you if you had to flee your home and escape to another country? More than 1 million Syrians have been forced to ponder this question before making the dangerous flight to neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq or other countries in the region.

This is the second part of a project by photographer Brian Sokol that asks refugees from different parts of the world, "What is the most important thing you brought from home?" The first instalment focused on refugees fleeing from Sudan to South Sudan, who openly carried pots, water containers and other objects to sustain them along the road.

By contrast, people seeking sanctuary from the conflict in Syria must typically conceal their intentions by appearing as though they are out for a family stroll or a Sunday drive as they make their way towards a border. Thus they carry little more than keys, pieces of paper, phones and bracelets - things that can be worn or concealed in pockets. Some Syrians bring a symbol of their religious faith, others clutch a reminder of home or of happier times.

The Most Important Thing: Syrian Refugees

A Family On the Move in South Sudan

When fighting erupted in Kormaganza, Blue Nile state, in September last year, 80-year-old Dawa Musa's family decided to flee to the neighbouring village of Mafot. Dawa was too frail to make the two-day journey by foot, so her son, Awad Kutuk Tungud, hid her in the bush for three days while he moved his wife, Alahia, and nine children to safety. Awad returned for his mother and carried her to Mafot, where the family remained in relative safety for several months - until artillery began shelling the village.

Awad again fled with his family - this time across the border to South Sudan. For 15 gruelling days, he carried both his elderly mother and his daughter Zainab on his back, until they reached the border crossing at Al Fudj in February. UNHCR transported the family to Jamam refugee camp in South Sudan's Upper Nile state. They lived in safety for seven months until heavy rains caused flooding, making it difficult for UNHCR to bring clean water to the camp and bringing the threat of highly contagious waterborne diseases.

UNHCR set up a new camp in Gendrassa, located 55 kilometres from Jamam and on higher ground, and began the relocation of 56,000 people to the new camp. Among them were Awad and his family. Awad carried his mother once again, but this time it was to their new tent in Gendrassa camp. Awad has plans to begin farming. "Come back in three months," he said, "and there will be maize growing."

A Family On the Move in South Sudan

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South Sudan: Helping the Most Vulnerable

UNHCR comes to the assistance of older, disabled and sickly Sudanese refugees arriving in Yusuf Batil Camp.
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Kassala camp in eastern Sudan provides shelter to thousands of refugees from Eritrea. Many of them pass through the hands of ruthless and dangerous smugglers.