Millions of people are uprooted as a consequence of armed conflict and human rights violations seeking safety abroad or within their own country. More than half of an estimated 20 million refugees and displaced persons around the world today are children. Currently, an estimated 7.7 million people under UNHCR's care are children below the age of 18. The percentage of refugee children ranges from 57 percent in Central Africa to only 20 percent in Central and Eastern Europe. In most regions, women and girls constitute between 45 - 55 percent of the refugee population.
Displaced children have become the single largest group of concern because the majority of conflicts over the last decade have raged within countries rather than across national borders. Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Liberia and Afghanistan are examples of this trend. The intensification of the armed conflict in Colombia during the first half of 2002 has led to an increase in the numbers of internally displaced, currently estimated at more than 1.5 million of which over 70% are women and children.
Children with their families caught up in the midst of violence seek refuge across the border, in host communities that are already exhausted by the effects of war, or hide in remote jungle areas where they have limited access to health and Education services or regular humanitarian assistance. They are at risk to become direct victims of violence, disease, malnutrition and death. During the flight, children may become separated from their parents and families. Displaced adolescents are especially vulnerable to forced recruitment, Abduction and trafficking. Girls are facing even more danger, as they might become victims of exploitation and sexual abuse.
UNHCR, UNICEF and agencies such as ICRC and Save the Children are mandated to provide protection to refugee and displaced children. In the case of separated children the first priority is tracing and family reunification. Following the Rwandan genocide more than 67,000 children were reunited with their families in Africa's Great Lakes region between 1994-2000 through a global tracing program organized by humanitarian organizations.
Children living in refugee and IDP camps need to be protected from violence, exploitation and sexual abuse and have the right to benefit from nutrition, health, Education and recreation services. All efforts should be directed to improve the living conditions in these camps. When conditions are met for a safe return home, reintegration of displaced and refugee children into their communities of origin should be a priority through the implementation of specific Educational programs.
United Nations agencies and international and local partner organizations are engaged in concerted efforts to address the protection, rights and well being of displaced and refugee children. Guiding principles on protection and care have been developed and training initiatives such as the "Action for the Rights of Children" (ARC) program for furthering children's rights in the context of displacement are under way to assist field staff of the various agencies in their work. The Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict is advocating for more financial and human resources -- like deployment of additional staff specialized in the protection of refugee and displaced children -- to ensure that their rights and needs are being addressed.
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CHILDREN AS REFUGEES