Children bear brunt of Somali refugee crisis

Briefing Notes, 6 September 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 6 September 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Somali children are the biggest victims of the refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa, according to the latest profiling data collected by UNHCR in Ethiopia. The most recent demographic breakdown of the Somali influx into Ethiopia shows that children under the age of 18 are the largest age group among refugees. Overall, they account for some 80 per cent of the 121,000 refugees sheltered in four camps in south-eastern Ethiopia's Dollo Ado region.

The situation is most extreme in the Kobe camp, where children comprise 88.6 per cent of the camp's over-25,000 population. Most families are female-headed households with large numbers of children, including young relatives or orphans.

We remain concerned about the high mortality rates due to severe acute malnutrition and diseases. Also worrying is the number of separated or unaccompanied children. Initial estimates indicate this number could be as high as 2,500 children in the four camps. We are carrying out a screening this week in refugee camps in Dollo Ado to better understand the scope of the problem and determine what may be in the best interest of these children.

Many refugee women tell our teams in Ethiopia that it is not safe for Somali men to travel. They fear forced recruitment by armed groups and local militias. In many cases men stay behind in Somalia to protect whatever property the family may have, to care for those too sick to travel and to tend to any remaining livestock. Some families simply have no means for everyone to travel together, so women and children are sent first. However, over the past few weeks our staff have observed that there are more single men arriving from Somalia to join their families.

Meanwhile in Somalia, UNHCR is supplementing food aid delivered by other agencies in famine-stricken areas in the south. We are preparing to distribute 7,500 Emergency Assistance Packages (EAPs consisting of plastic sheets, sleeping mats, blankets, jerrycans and kitchen utensils) for nearly 50,000 people in the Bay region, where famine has just been declared. A further 70,000 people are to be assisted in Lower Shabelle, also in famine. Over 50,000 people will be reached through distributions in Mogadishu and 30,000 will be reached in the Gedo and Lower Juba border areas. All in all, by the end of August, UNHCR had reached almost 220,000 people and aims to reach an additional 180,000 by the end of September.

According to UNHCR Somalia Representative Bruno Geddo, it is imperative to scale up delivery of massive amounts of aid as quickly as possible to needy people inside Somalia if we are to maintain the recent downward trend in outflows towards Ethiopia and Kenya. He recently returned from Dollow on the Somalia-Ethiopian border and Mogadishu, and said that internally displaced Somalis he spoke with continued to express the desire to remain in their country rather than cross an international border in search of assistance.

Learn more about the crisis in the Horn of Africa and how to contribute by visiting the UNHCR Horn of Africa emergency donation site. For the latest updates follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Kenya, Nairobi UNHCR regional office: Andrej Mahecic on mobile +254 734 330 023
  • In Kenya, UNHCR Somalia Office: Andy Needham on mobile +254 733 120 931
  • In Ethiopia, Kisut Gebre Egziabher on mobile +251 911 208 901
  • In Geneva, Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 34 83
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Children

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Refworld – Children

This Special Feature on Child Protection is a comprehensive source of relevant legal and policy documents, practical tools and links to related websites.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

The Children of Harmanli Face a Bleak Winter

Since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011, more than 2 million people have fled the violence. Many have made their way to European Union countries, finding sanctuary in places like Germany and Sweden. Others are venturing into Europe by way of Bulgaria, where the authorities struggle to accommodate and care for some 8,000 asylum-seekers, many of whom are Syrian. More than 1,000 of these desperate people, including 300 children, languish in an overcrowded camp in the town of Harmanli, 50 kilometres from the Turkish-Bulgarian border. These people crossed the border in the hope of starting a new life in Europe. Some have travelled in family groups; many have come alone with dreams of reuniting in Europe with loved ones; and still others are unaccompanied children. The sheer number of people in Harmanli is taxing the ability of officials to process them, let alone shelter and feed them. This photo essay explores the daily challenges of life in Harmanli.

The Children of Harmanli Face a Bleak Winter

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are children who have sought shelter in urban areas with their families. Unlike those in camps, refugees living in towns and cities in countries like Iraq, Turkey and Jordan often find it difficult to gain access to aid and protection. In a refugee camp, it is easier for humanitarian aid organizations such as UNHCR to provide shelter and regular assistance, including food, health care and education. Finding refugees in urban areas, let alone helping them, is no easy task.

In Iraq, about 100,000 of the 143,000 Syrian refugees are believed to be living in urban areas - some 40 per cent of them are children aged under 18 years. The following photographs, taken in the northern city of Erbil by Brian Sokol, give a glimpse into the lives of some of these young urban refugees. They show the harshness of daily life as well as the resilience, adaptability and spirit of young people whose lives have been overturned in the past two years.

Life is difficult in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The cost of living is high and it is difficult to find work. The refugees must also spend a large part of their limited resources on rent. UNHCR and its partners, including the Kurdish Regional Government, struggle to help the needy.

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

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Forty-five-year-old Gabriel fled South Sudan with his wife and children to find safety in the UN compound in Bor. But, in April 2014, his wife was killed when an armed mob forced their way in, and now he is a single father to five children, seeking a better life in Uganda.
Ethiopia: Far From Home Play video

Ethiopia: Far From Home

Nyabuka Lam arrived in Pagak, Ethiopia in September after escaping armed men who shot her three children and husband back in her home country, South Sudan. After walking for 15 days to reach the safety of Pagak, she is now finally on a path to recovery.
Ethiopia: Far From Home Play video

Ethiopia: Far From Home

Nyabuka Lam arrived in Pagak, Ethiopia in September after escaping armed men who shot her three children and husband back in her home country, South Sudan. After walking for 15 days to reach the safety of Pagak, she is now finally on a path to recovery.