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Hundreds of thousands of Darfur children not in school

NAIROBI, 28 February 2008 (IRIN) - About 650,000 or half of all children in Darfur do not receive an education, despite efforts by various organisations to provide schooling in camps and towns across the western Sudanese region, an international NGO said.

"Education is the foundation for economically viable and more peaceful societies. But the international community has been loath to fund schooling in conflict situations," Charles MacCormack, president of Save the Children US, said in a statement on 27 February. "This is shortsighted."

In West Darfur State alone, 200,000 children come of school-age every year - of whom 22,440 are being assisted by Save the Children to attend classes in 42 schools in camps and towns.

"We cannot afford to wait to begin education programmes until violence ceases and families can return home," MacCormack said. "What about the children whose time for school is now? Are they to be left by the wayside of history?"

Refugee children from Darfur
Photo: Christine Madison/IRIN
Refugee children from Darfur: Half of all children in Darfur do not receive an education
Urging donor nations to provide more assistance for education in conflict zones, the NGO said present levels of support had failed to meet all the needs.

The Darfur conflict, which began in 2003 when communities in the region took up arms to fight alleged marginalisation by the Sudanese government, has displaced more than one million children. The government responded by arming militias, but these have since been accused of abusing civilians.

In recent weeks, attacks by Sudanese government forces have displaced thousands more civilians, including children, and hindered humanitarian access to those affected.

According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), a recent high-level mission to El-Geneina and Sirba in West Darfur found that thousands of civilians had remained trapped in Jebel Moun where fighting continues, without protection, shelter, food or belongings. However, about 24,000 were reported to have returned to Sirba and Abu Saroug.

William Spindler, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news conference on 26 February in Geneva that some of the affected civilians had either gone to other villages or were attempting the dangerous journey to Chad.

"According to our team, more people have crossed into Chad over the past weekend following renewed attacks on Jebel Moun," he said. "The latest arrivals are mainly women, children and elderly people and they are extremely traumatised."

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says more than 250,000 Sudanese refugees and 180,000 internally displaced persons are in eastern Chad.

A camp for the displaced in Darfur
Photo: IRIN
A camp for the displaced in Darfur
The Sudanese government denies targeting civilians, saying the attacks were being carried out to flush out rebels of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), who have been hiding among civilians in the area.

The attacks have, however, made the situation increasingly bleak in recent months, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In a 27 February letter urging the UN Security Council to condemn recent "horrific" attacks on Darfur civilians and to impose targeted sanctions on those responsible, it said the situation was reminiscent of the worst periods of the conflict in 2004.

According to the letter, Sudanese armed forces backed by Janjawid militia attacked three West Darfur villages on 8 February, in which hundreds of civilians died, and tens of thousands were displaced.

The attacks, said Georgette Gagnon, HRW's Africa division director, cut off at least 20,000 civilians from humanitarian assistance and breached the ban on offensive military fly-overs imposed by the Security Council. It also underlined the government's failure to disarm the Janjawid militia.

"The attacks marked the beginning of a campaign of aerial bombardments and ground attacks that continues today, which includes the bombing of a recently emptied refugee camp at Aro Sharrow in West Darfur," Gagnon said.

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