Zimbabwe + 2 more

JRS Dispatches No. 268

(extract)

SOME ITEMS IN THIS ISSUE REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS

1. Zimbabwe: education crisis felt throughout the region

Increasing numbers of children are leaving Zimbabwe in search of services and opportunities no longer available at home.

Young Zimbabweans are at risk of becoming a generation of adults without the education, skills or opportunities needed to become active members of society. The crisis in the education system is affecting the whole region with a large number of Zimbabweans leaving in search of education, training services, employment opportunities, and ways to survive and support themselves and their families back home.

If the crisis is not addressed urgently and effectively, JRS Southern Africa told Dispatches on 9 October, the country risks sliding further into a vicious cycle of poverty and migration.

Officially, primary and secondary schools are once again operating. However, outside urban areas this is not the case. Consequently, many young Zimbabweans continue to be unable to access education at all. A combination of poor services and high school fees prevent many young people from accessing education services. According to a report published last month by the deputy prime minister, Thokozanie Khupe, the education system was "in dire straits requiring urgent attention."

According to JRS Southern Africa Advocacy and Communications Officer, Shani Adess, the high cost of attending school and the poor quality of services offered may lead to an increase of Zimbabweans migrating to South Africa and other neighbouring countries.

What Zimbabweans say

"Many secondary school teachers have told JRS that students leave the country after being forced to drop out of school mainly due to the difficult social, economic and political circumstances in which they find themselves. They seek education and employment elsewhere to support themselves and their families", said Ms Adess.

Unaccompanied Zimbabwean minors told JRS South Africa staff they left after their parents died of HIV/AIDS. They are left in the care of elderly grandparents, Ms Adess told Dispatches, who cannot work and do not have enough money to buy food for them or their younger siblings. The number of unaccompanied minors fleeing Zimbabwe, trying to enter neighbouring states, has increased this year.

If the education system in Zimbabwe is not strengthened, greater numbers of unaccompanied minors will flee to the member countries of the Southern African Development Community. Without any support from their families or a decent education, they will require substantial support.

"Zimbabwe will need the support of SADC to rebuild its education system. The continuing lack of access to education, particularly in rural areas, risks leaving a generation of children behind, with no way home" Ms Adess added.

2. Chad: Sudanese refugee camp in Oure Cassoni to be relocated

On 5 October, JRS Chad welcomed the decision by the government to relocate Oure Cassoni refugee camp away from the volatile border area with Sudan.

The camp currently accommodates some 28,000 refugees from Darfur. For several years, UN agencies and NGOs have being urging the authorities to move the camp, located seven kilometres from the Sudanese border, to a safer and more accessible area.

According to JRS Chad, protection and security have always been problems in the camp where the refugees in Oure Cassoni face severe water and firewood shortages. One key protection concern has been the ongoing recruitment of child soldiers by armed Sudanese opposition groups and the mounting militarisation of the camp. Moreover, women who leave the camp confines looking for firewood are at risk of theft and violence, particularly sexual violence.

On 18 September, staff from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) accompanied a delegation of Chadian government officials and the UN special representative to visit a proposed site for the new camp, 45 kilometres north of the town of Bahai. Once a suitable site has been identified, planning the logistical aspects of the move will get underway. This will include designing the new camp, drilling boreholes and setting up tents to accommodate the refugees who will then construct their homes on their allocated spaces.

Worries about the process

Although a decision has yet to be taken, JRS Chad Director, Christian Munezero SJ, expressed a number of concerns about the process. The move is expected to take between two and three months. During the period, the children, he continued, should not be made to suffer. We are no longer in a situation of emergency, said Fr Munezero, so it is essential that education services are prioritised along with other spheres such as shelter, food and sanitation. Schools must be constructed before the refugees arrive, otherwise the children risk missing out on valuable education time.

Roads will also be a logistics challenge if the site north of Bahai is selected. Over the last five years all the necessary services were built up around Oure Cassoni camp. These will have to be built again. It will take two hours to get to the camp on what is essentially a non-existent road system.

Moreover, Fr Munezero fears that access to the camps will be even more difficult due to the rainy season and the lack of adequate military protection travelling to the camps.

According to UNHCR estimates, an additional US$ 9 million will be needed to carry out the relocation operation.

For a short interview on the situation in Chad see http://jrs.net/reports/index.php?lang=en&sid=4923