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Healing the Suffering of Children Who’ve Lost Everything

Around 40% of the world’s displaced are children

While fleeing wars and conflicts, thousands of children become separated from families & relatives. Some children travel alone, sent ahead by their parents in a desperate attempt to ensure their children's survival, others are orphaned. Many of these unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) have to live with the trauma of having seen things that no child ever should. Some have even seen their parents killed.

Hosting the largest number of refugees and asylum seekers in Africa, Ethiopia shelters more than 41,000 unaccompanied and separated children – the largest number anywhere in the world. The vast majority have fled the brutal conflict in South Sudan, travelling hundreds of kilometres alone in search of safety.



How UNHCR helps? Basic Needs | Protection | Family Tracing


At risk of violence, abuse, neglect, exploitation and military recruitment, many unaccompanied and separated children have no access to necessities such as food, clean water and shelter.

UNHCR protects these children bygiving them a roof, taking care of their basic needs and giving them medical care.We also protect their rights by registering and documenting their identity. With the correct data and information, we can ensure these children get the specific assistance and protection arrangements they need.

Next, we help restore their futures throughfamily tracing services, so they can reunite with their family members. In the interim, we appoint guardians and foster families so that they are cared for, protected and guided by responsible adults.


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Gambella – an Emergency for Children

Nowhere is the tragic circumstance of lone and separated refugee children more poignant than in the 7 camps of Gambella, a western state of Ethiopia that currently hosts over 337,000 refugees.

In Gambella, over 60% of refugees are children, and more than 22,000 of whom are separated from their families or have lost their parents to the conflict in South Sudan.

Older children are forced to grow up fast, having to step into the shoes of their parents to become the primary caregiver to younger siblings.

How UNHCR helps? Child-Friendly Spaces

UNHCR works with partners to develop child-friendly spaces – somewhere children can go to just be children. These spaces offer a safe, healing and protective environment where children can learn, play, strengthen friendships and get psychological support as an important part of their recovery and development of resilience.

By taking part in different activities with other kids – such as play and discussion sessions, arts and crafts classes and art therapy – children are not only able to develop social networks, but increased optimism for the future and positive coping strategies.

These activities in turn allow our staff to report care and protection concerns, and access individual for group counselling.


In Search of Better Tomorrow

UNHCR has been able to protect and care for these unaccompanied and separated children throughout the past few years, as they grew from young children into teenagers, with big ambitions for the future.

The story of Anna

It was night time when Anna was awoken by the sound of machine guns. “When they screamed run, I ran,” reminisces Anna, gloomily recalling the last time she saw her parents. For days, she walked through a warzone, too terrified to sleep. When she reached Ethiopia, UNHCR immediately supported her with food, shelter and water, before helping her to start over in Gambella with a foster family.

Three years on, Anna is 15 and living in a new home filled with laughter of five other children. She has developed a love of school and dreams of becoming a doctor.


Unaccompanied South Sudanese children, Nyakoang (left) and Nyamach (right).

The story of Nyamach & Nyakoang


Unaccompanied South Sudanese children, Nyakoang (left) and Nyamach (right).

After losing her father to war, her mother to illness and her home to violence, Nyamach fled South Sudan when she was 16.

Rebuilding her life in Ethiopia, all she has left is her younger sister Nyakoang. As the head of her small household, Nyamach had to grow up fast. She lets Nyakoang eat first when food is scarce. “I like to see her happy more than myself,” she says as she works to ensure they both stay in school. “I’m hoping for a good job one day.”


How UNHCR helps? Education | Psychological Support

UNHCR helps unaccompanied and separated children secure access to schools because education is regarded as the most effective means of ensuring protection for refugee children. It is the key to stability and security, and a means of empowerment in the absence of parental care and protection.

We pay special attention to improve girls’ access to education, by offering separate classes to help them overcome the social and educational problems, and by running awareness-raising programmes in the community.

Providing psychological support, assessment and counselling is also a major part of our work. Psycho-education and cognitive behavioural therapy help children who have experienced trauma and multiple losses reduce their anxiety, depression and increase hope for the future.

Interview with Our Field Officer

Giving up a law career to be an active voice for the world’s many unaccompanied and separated children, Esther is responsible for the management of two camps in Gambella.

“Gambella is an emergency for children, the children should not be forgotten.” Esther Akinyi Olang, UNHCR Field Officer in Ethiopia

  • Q: Why are there so many lone children in Ethiopia, and especially Gambella?

  • A: It’s due to the unique situation of the conflict in South Sudan where children and women are sent ahead to flee while male stay behind to safeguard homeland.

  • Q: What do you do on a daily basis for UNHCR in Gambella?

  • A: We safeguard children against any ills and work with counterparts to ensure their protection needs and basic needs like food, water and nutrition needs are well met.

  • Q: What is a story you’ll always remember from your work?

  • A: A separation case that happened right before my eyes where a single mother and her eldest daughter got shot while picking up wood for fire. They left four very young children behind, including a 6-month-old baby. It was a challenge to look after them initially, but after much effort, we managed to meet their nutrition needs and find them a good foster family.

  • Q: What message do you have for the world?

  • A: Young refugees are the future leaders for tomorrow. Given proper supports that free them from trauma, these kids can experience a childhood like any other.

Around the world, lone refugee children need your support. Will you help them with below assistance ?

You can provide cash grants to cover school expenses for 30 primary refugee students in Uganda.

You can provide psychosocial support to 15 refugee children in Bangladesh for a whole year.

You can register and issue documents for 150 South Sudanese children in Ethiopia to safeguard their rights.