photo by jon nicholson

feature story - Not On Our Watch Grant to UNICEF to Support Zimbabwean Child Refugee Protection Programs

june 2nd, 2009

“I've seen first-hand how dire the situation is for Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa. Women are being raped, orphaned children have no protection, and thousands of people are without even the most basic supplies. Every-day survival has become a harrowing task,” said Not On Our Watch board member Matt Damon. “As the situation in Zimbabwe remains unresolved, the international community must stop sitting on the sidelines and instead take action to help those who need it most. Not On Our Watch is proud to support UNICEF's work in this critical time.”

Following Damon's visit to the South Africa-Zimbabwe border in March of 2009, Not On Our Watch has awarded the U.S. Fund for UNICEF a grant of $438,000 to assist at-risk Zimbabwean refugee children living in the border town of Musina, South Africa. The grant will provide critical support for child protection and welfare services for 1,500 unaccompanied and vulnerable children who have fled Zimbabwe to escape growing humanitarian and economic crises.

While the formation of a new coalition government in Zimbabwe signals hope for the Zimbabwean people, the situation for women and children in-country remains at crisis levels. In the last six months, unstable economic conditions, coupled with a severe cholera outbreak have contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of Zimbabweans undertaking the dangerous journey of fleeing to neighboring South Africa, particularly children.

Once in South Africa, refugee children live in extreme situations of risk, including physical and sexual abuse, child labor, and psychosocial trauma, with only limited access to basic necessities such as health services, shelter, education, food, and clothing. In addition, their lack of documentation and poorly understood legal status in South Africa places many children in danger of detention and deportation, and forces them to lead “underground” lives.

UNICEF and its partners are supporting the South African government’s efforts to improve the care and protection of migrant children. The support from Not On Our Watch will allow UNICEF to provide emergency assistance, prevent and respond to exploitation and gender-based violence, and strengthen the capacity of the South African Department of Social Development to respond to children’s complex needs.

“UNICEF gratefully acknowledges the vital support of Not On Our Watch which will contribute to the survival needs of Zimbabwean children in Musina,” said Caryl Stern, President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. “This charitable donation will impact the lives of 1,500 Zimbabwean children, by providing them with the emergency care they desperately need. Services also help us to achieve our ultimate goal of reducing the number of children around the world who die each day of preventable causes from 25,000 to zero.”

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