UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Priyanka Chopra Jonas travelled to Ethiopia this week to meet refugee children who have fled their countries due to conflict and humanitarian crises.
During the visit, Chopra Jonas met children and young people living in the Bambasi refugee camp, home to 17,000 refugees largely from Sudan, and Hitsats and Adi-Harush camps, where 55,000 refugees from Eritrea currently live.
“Children uprooted from their homes by war and disaster endure the most disruption to their lives,” said Chopra Jonas. “They miss out on education, healthcare and stability, which makes them extremely vulnerable to violence, abuse or exploitation.”
Ethiopia is home to 900,000 refugees – the second largest refugee population in Africa. Most wereforcibly displaced from their homes in Somalia, South Sudan, Eritrea, Sudan and Yemen. Many have crossed borders in search of peace or a better life, facing deadly dangers and discrimination along the way.
At Bambasi Refugee Primary School, Chopra Jonas met eight-year-old Zulfa Ata Ey, one of 6,000 students registered at the school. Zulfa enrolled in grade two, and although her classroom is overcrowded, her desire to learn resulted in her being at the top of her class. She dreams of becoming a teacher “so that I can help other children to learn.”
“Zulfa is just one of so many students I met who are eager to be in school,” Chopra Jonas said.
Like many refugee schools in Ethiopia, Bambasi has a severe shortage of classrooms, teachers and textbooks.
“It was amazing to walk into classrooms packed with students eager to learn,” said Chopra Jonas. “So long as children have access to an education, there is hope. UNICEF is supporting the government in training teachers, supplying books, and building schools and classrooms so that all children enjoy their right to education, no matter who they are or what their migration status is.”
At both Hitsats and Adi-Harush camps, schools, health centers and other essential services are integrated and serve both Eritrean refugees and Ethiopian nationals.
“These camps sit very closely to the neighboring “host” Ethiopian community,” said Chopra Jonas. “Like their refugee peers, Ethiopians in these communities also struggle with poverty and limited resources. Having programmes available for both communities brings equal opportunities to all the children here – education, nutrition and health services – things every single child needs to survive and thrive.”
Chopra Jonas watched a football match in which both Ethiopian and Eritrean players participated. The two captains of the football teams, one Ethiopian, the other Eritrean, explained that when the first Eritrean refugees crossed the border, they were dismissive towards each other and cautioned not to interact with each other. Through time, shared schools, and a better understanding that both have the same needs, they now live closely together, go to school together and play together, as they both share a love of football.
At Adi-Harush camp, Chopra Jonas visited a government-run nutrition screening center and nearby MayTsebri hospital, both of which service refugees as well as members of the host communities. Here, babies have access to treatment for malnutrition and mothers receive much-needed health care.
“What I saw in Ethiopia is the capacity of human beings to empathize with and alleviate human suffering,” said Chopra Jonas. “Ethiopia is a shining example of what we – individuals, communities and governments – can do to help those who have been displaced by conflict and humanitarian disasters by allowing an open-door policy to refugees and providing protection to those seeking asylum in the country.”
UNICEF is urging governments to stand up for refugees and asylum seekers by adopting policies that address the causes that uproot children from their homes; helping uprooted children to stay in school and stay healthy; keeping families together and giving children legal status; ending the detention of refugee children; combatting xenophobia and discrimination; and protecting uprooted children from exploitation and violence.