Italian assistance helps UNFPA protect vulnerable migrant women, youth in Sudan

13 April 2020
Sudan is a transit state for migrants coming from the Horn of Africa. © UNFPA Sudan/Soufian Abdul-Mouty

KHARTOUM, Sudan – Nearly 60,000 vulnerable migrants in Sudan are receiving sexual and reproductive health support under a UNFPA programme – supported by the Government of Italy  – which could prove critical in Sudan’s fight for gender equality.

Due to historic disenfranchisement, migrants in Sudan struggle to access basic sexual and reproductive health services in a country where the health system and host communities lack resources to serve migrants. Female and youth migrants are at high risk of gender-based violence. The uncertainty migrants face means it is a harrowing task to receive help after suffering gender-based violence. 

Sudan is a key transit state for migrants coming from the Horn of Africa, many of whom end up staying in the country for years. UNFPA's support is focused on distributing supplies, providing community support and giving trusted information in an unstable environment.

“Female migrants are among the most vulnerable population groups in Sudan and this program provides them life-saving support,” said Massimo Diana, UNFPA Representative in Sudan. “Thanks to the help from Italy, migrants are now getting the care they desperately need.” 

Under the programme, UNFPA is helping the Ministry of Health and partner NGOs strengthen the health system to improve the overall sexual and reproductive health of migrants and assist migrant survivors of gender-based violence. The goal is to foster more inclusive, resilient and stable communities in historically neglected and war-torn regions like the Sudanese states of Kassala, Gadarif, South Kordofan, White Nile and North Darfur.

For migrants in Sudan, the main obstacle to ensuring their sexual and reproductive health is the overall quality of services available to them. Survivors of gender-based violence have a hard time finding specialists to treat them, even if they have been raped, and psychosocial traumas like stigma arising from getting infected with a sexually transmitted disease rarely get diagnosed.

UNFPA is working with the Ministry of Health to fill in health system gaps so migrants can exercise their human right to get sexual and reproductive health services, including protection from gender-based violence. In safe houses, UNFPA-trained social workers provide counselling to survivors of gender-based violence and help female migrants set up small businesses. The programme also distributes personal hygiene kits to women, including sanitary pads.

Another challenge is the discrimination many migrants face when accessing care, especially Ethiopian and Eritrean migrants who are likely to be victims of human trafficking. 

“To alleviate fears of deportation, UNFPA-trained social workers focus on providing accurate information about their human rights in a safe setting,” said Khadija Abdelkareem, a UNFPA project officer based on Khartoum. “The social workers notify migrants that they will not be reported to the authorities if they visit a clinic, and inform them that all services are free regardless of immigration status.”

Rome has provided €1,16 million ($1.27 million) for this programme in Sudan through Italy’s Africa Fund. Italy was one of UNFPA's top 20 donors in 2019, as well as a staunch advocate in the struggle to end all forms of gender-based violence and harmful practices like female genital mutilation.

“Too often migrants remain in Sudan with nowhere to go,” Diana said. “But with this programme, which is part of the global response to the migration crisis led by the International Organization for Migration, we can make the journey a little safer for women.”

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