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

Almost half the people of concern to UNHCR are children. They need special care.

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

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

Afghan Street Children Turn from Beggars to Beauticians

A UNHCR-funded project in Kabul, Afghanistan, is helping to keep returnee children off the streets by teaching them to read and write, give them room to play and offer vocational training in useful skills such as tailoring, flower making, and hairstyling.

Every day, Afghan children ply the streets of Kabul selling anything from newspapers to chewing gum, phone cards and plastic bags. Some station themselves at busy junctions and weave through traffic waving a can of smoking coal to ward off the evil eye. Others simply beg from passing strangers.

There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 street children in the Afghan capital alone. Among them are those who could not afford an education as refugees in Iran or Pakistan, and are unable to go to school as returnees in Afghanistan because they have to work from dawn to dusk to support their families. For the past seven years, a UNHCR-funded project has been working to bring change.

Posted on 12 November 2008

Afghan Street Children Turn from Beggars to Beauticians

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