News Stories, 17 April 2014
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