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Guinea: a window on West Africa’s war-weary children

CONAKRY/GENEVA, 4 November 2003 -- UNICEF today said that reports from border monitors and NGOs reveal that Guinea is becoming a burgeoning refuge for thousands of children fleeing West Africa’s wars.

Speaking from New York, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy described a situation in which refugee children have joined thousands of Guinean children separated from their families, all fending for themselves in urban centres.

The problem is exacerbated by the gradual return of Guinean children from Liberia, where they had been recruited to fight in that country’s civil war.

“This is a snapshot of all of West Africa’s wars over the past decade,” said Bellamy. “Children fleeing recruitment, violence, and exploitation; criss-crossing borders; beginning as unaccompanied children in one place, becoming child soldiers in another, and refugee minors in a third. And perhaps returning again to soldiering if they can’t find the means to subsist, or if they are simply rejected by their families.”

More than a million refugees from neighbouring Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, and Sierra Leone have sought shelter over the past decade in impoverished Guinea, straining national resources and aid agency programmes. Over 100,000 people are living in refugee camps, and a recent survey estimated that another 50,000 mainly young are living on the streets of the major cities.

UNICEF and the International Rescue Committee have identified 2,000 children of varying nationalities, of these the vast majority of them boys living on the streets. UNICEF has reunited more than half with their families, but says that funds to continue have run dry, while thousands of children still await registration and assistance.

“Monitoring indicates that increasing numbers of children are finding their way to Guinea,” said Bellamy. “There’s an opportunity to break the cycle that sees these children return to the bondage of war, servitude, and sexual exploitation in neighbouring countries. We’re working with these children, but quite frankly a lack of money is threatening our capacity to continue, while numbers of children keep increasing.”

UNICEF is also trying to register and de-mobilize an estimated 2,000 Guinean child soldiers, of whom as many as one-fifth are thought to be girls. Some 350 are receiving vocational training and assistance in rejoining their families. But a shortage of funding threatens to leave those halfway through the reintegration process high and dry, and the others without any prospect of support.

Despite generous contributions from the UK and Sweden, Guinea has attracted only a quarter of the funding needed to carry out its programmes.

Background

Today, more than 300,000 children – boys and girls under the age of 18 – are involved in more than 30 conflicts worldwide. Children are used as combatants, messengers, porters and cooks and for forced sexual services. Some are abducted or forcibly recruited, others are driven to join by poverty, abuse and discrimination. Since the mid-1980s, UNICEF has played a key role in advocating and securing the release of children from armed forces and other combatant groups in Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda. UNICEF and its NGO partners have also provided care, technical guidance and, at times, financial support for the successful implementation of national programmes for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.

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For further information please contact:

John Brittain, UNICEF Guinea,
+224 228 746, jbrittain@unicef.org

Margherita Amadeo, UNICEF West Africa,
+377 475 31424, mamadeo@unicef.org

Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Geneva,
+4122 909 5716, dpersonnaz@unicef.org

Gordon Weiss, UNICEF New York,
+1 212 326 7426, gweiss@unicef.org


 

 

 

Fact

More than a million refugees from neighbouring Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, and Sierra Leone have sought shelter over the past decade in impoverished Guinea, straining national resources and aid agency programmes. Over 100,000 people are living in refugee camps, and a recent survey estimated that another 50,000 mainly young are living on the streets of the major cities.
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