Refugee and internally displaced children
A family life constitutes one of a child’s rights. War has no respect for this: it drives people out of their homes as they flee battle zones or direct attack, leaving behind not only their property, but also their family and friends. In the last decade, an estimated 20 million children have been forced by conflict or human rights violations to leave their homes.
As they flee conflict, families may become separated. Left alone, children are more likely to be sexually abused or recruited into combat. Deprived of a support network, they are also more vulnerable to hunger and diseases. Some families manage to remain intact until they have found refuge, but the poor conditions under which many fleeing families find themselves increase children’s vulnerability to malnutrition and illness.
When families leave their homes, it is usually seen as a temporary situation. All too often, however, the period of exile runs into years, or even decades; in such cases children may spend their whole childhood in camps. In Western Sahara, southern Sudan and elsewhere, entire generations of children have never lived at home.
Of the 40 million people – half of them children – who have been forced to flee their homes, around one third are refugees who have been driven across national borders. The other two thirds are internally displaced, a proportion that has been rising steadily in parallel with the trend towards civil strife. It is much harder for the humanitarian community to intervene on behalf of internally displaced persons since national governments often resent this as ‘interference’. Yet the problems of the internally displaced are often as severe as those of refugees; they are similarly alienated from support systems, often lack identity papers or suffer discrimination. Unlike refugees, who benefit from international legal protection, their legal status and care and protection by the authorities is in many cases far weaker.