How does it feel being displaced in Sudan? What is it like to leave everything behind – home, work, family, friends, culture – and start a new life as a refugee in Sudan?
To answer these questions, there is no one more qualified than the refugees themselves. For this reason, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, operations around the world conduct regular participatory assessments to help enhance the accountability and effectiveness of its work. It has become a well-established foundation for UNHCR’s programmatic and practical work with communities and other stakeholders.
Participatory assessments focus on creating an open dialogue with refugees to hear first-hand accounts of their aspirations, challenges, needs and often suffering. The methodology also focuses on the capacities and ideas that refugees bring to the discussions. The qualitative insights gained through participatory assessments complement macro-level data and protection analysis to help UNHCR adjust and tailor its protection solutions.
For the 2019 participatory assessment in Sudan (see methodology at page 76). UNHCR and over 60 partners sat together with 6,068 refugees representing diverse profiles in 569 different events across 13 states to bring forward the valuable recommendations of refugees. About 1,100 girls and 1,000 boys participated through discussions specifically for children participants. Some 500 elderly women and 500 elderly men participated through dedicated discussions. Separate conversations were also held with single-headed households and specific populations to ensure that their voices were heard.
The majority of participants were South Sudanese (reflecting the fact that most refugees hosted in Sudan are from South Sudan). Participants also included refugees from Chad, CAR, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Yemen and Syria.
Across Sudan refugees had serious concerns with protection and assistance gaps in nearly all areas, and particularly with access to: quality education, livelihoods, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), justice, physical security, shelter, registration, child protection (particularly against child labour and early marriage) and protection from sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
In terms of physical security and access to justice, refugees and asylum-seekers were concerned that the host community could steal from refugees, exploited them in labour situations, and even targeted them for sexual and physical violence with no consequence. Host community impunity for crimes committed against refugees was a major issue for nearly all populations, and particularly those living in Darfur.
Health was another major theme highlighted by refugees, and discussions focused on a significant lack of access to basic healthcare services. In particular, participants highlighted weak referral systems, that costs were unaffordable (particularly for pregnant women), and long waits to access services even when people were suffering from significant pain and other urgent medical issues.
A third major theme was food security and access to basic livelihoods. Here participants were concerned with insufficient assistance, and the inability of refugees to meet their basic nutrition needs because of a lack of work.
Refugees recommended that malnutrition be addressed by providing them with opportunities to work. This was particularly true in East Sudan where restrictions on freedom of movement prevented many refugees from accessing employment, forcing them to rely instead on inadequate food assistance which diminishes with time.
Communicating with communities was a discussion theme which focused on understanding the communication needs of refugee populations. In this area communities highlighted that they wanted to be involved in more aspects of the services affecting them.
Education was one of the other top themes discussed and participants worried about high dropout rates for refugee children. They listed several causes, including overcrowding, lack of materials, lack of qualified teachers, difficulty affording school fees and the need for children to help with household income generation.
Participants also reported that girls face discrimination in accessing education because they are often tasked with domestic work or forced into early marriage to reduce economic burdens on their families. Girls across the country were seen as the most vulnerable to being denied access to their basic rights to education.
WASH was another significant issue across Sudan. Particularly, a lack of functioning and appropriate latrines and subsequent unhealthy and dangerous coping strategies, such as open defecation in ill-lit areas. Further complaints about inadequate and overcrowded shelters, and a need for more non-food items (NFIs) were repeated frequently.
The findings of the participatory assessment have been shared at state level and UNHCR, Sudanese authorities and NGO partners have already started addressing some of the most pressing needs. However, much more work remains to be done to ensure that the challenges raised by refugees are addressed, and that the solutions they recommend are implemented.