There is no time to think when gunfire erupts. Especially when you are a 12-year-old child.
It was the middle of the night when the gunmen came. As the sound of machines guns ripped through the air, ever closer to her village in the Jonglei State of South Sudan, what Anna (nor her real name) initially thought was just a bad dream quickly turned into an absolute nightmare.
Scared for her life as screams of pain and despair filled the quiet African night, she did the only thing a child her age could do: run away. But in a night where chaos reigned and neighbours died, she quickly lost her parents in her desperate flight for safety.
Afraid, starving and alone, she saw once familiar surroundings transformed into a warzone overnight as she roamed the countryside in a frantic search for shelter, food and safety. Rattled by the proximity of wild animals, horrified by putrescent piles of decomposing bodies and terrified by the sound of constant fighting, she rapidly grew ill and weak.
Still unable to fully comprehend what happened to her old life, Anna’s haggard eyes now stare at an uncertain future, made even darker by the possibility that her mother and father may well have died on the night war came to her village.
In regions torn apart by war and disaster, lone refugee children like Anna are the most vulnerable of all. They need food and clean water. But above all, they need to feel safe. Safe from violence and bloodshed. Safe enough to begin recovering from trauma, through comfort and counselling.
More than half of all refugees and displaced persons around the world are children. In the conflict and upheaval that forces them to flee their homes, thousands of children lose their parents to violence or become separated from them and endure long journeys on their own.
In 2017, an estimated 173,800 unaccompanied and separated child refugees and asylum-seekers were reported worldwide, of whom 138,700 were assisted by UNHCR operations.
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