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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

Displaced children

© UNICEF/ HQ97-0122/LeMoyne
Rwandan refugees look at polaroid identification portraits of unaccompanied children, set up by UNICEF and its partners to help trace their families.

An estimated 20 million children are currently displaced by armed conflict or human rights violations. Two thirds are internally displaced within their own national borders. These children are forced to flee their homes, often travelling great distances to escape enemy fire, and become the most frequent victims of violence, disease, malnutrition and death. In the chaos of flight, children may become separated from their parents and families. They are exposed to far greater danger and exploitation, including forced recruitment, abduction, trafficking or sexual exploitation. Displaced children urgently need assistance and protection.

“My dream is to return home for one or two days before I die. It would give me everything. I’d go back to my house, my garden, my school.”  Adolescent, Azerbaijan 

When families and communities abandon their homes, taking what few possessions they can carry, they may plan to return at the earliest opportunity. But ‘temporary’ displacement can extend well over a decade. In such cases, children may spend their entire childhood in camps. Other long-term effects of displacement are an increased risk of poverty resulting from the loss of land, inheritance or other legal rights; incarceration or discrimination; and an inability to resume schooling.

All children, including those displaced by conflict, have the same rights to food, health and education, as well as the right to preserve their identity and other cultural, linguistic and inheritance rights. Guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and other international human rights instruments, UNICEF works to meet the survival, protection and development needs of displaced children in over 40 countries. In addition, UNICEF strives to alleviate problems that host communities may face, such as overcrowded schools, higher crime rates, pressure upon local services and food shortages. In doing so, UNICEF works in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and numerous international and local NGOs.

Related documents

Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement
The representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons developed the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in 1998. Displaced children are accorded special protection in several of the principles. UNICEF supports these Guidelines and strives to integrate them within its programmatic and advocacy responses.
Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement

Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and its Protocol (1967)
The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is an international convention that defines who is a refugee, and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum. The convention also sets out which people do not qualify as refugees, such as war criminals.
Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and its Protocol (1967)

Manual on Field Practice in Internal Displacement (IASC, 1999)
This manual offers field workers a sampling of prior experience of agencies wrestling with internal displacement. Concise examples of program initiatives undertaken by operational agencies, governments, and the displaced themselves are described.
Manual on Field Practice in Internal Displacement [pdf]

IASC Policy Statement on Protection of Internally Displaced Persons (IASC, 2000)
The IASC emphasises that the protection of internally displaced persons must be of concern to all humanitarian/development agencies. The policy paper identifies fourteen strategic areas to focus on in order to build a protective environment and to integrate protection features into operational response and remedial action.
IASC Policy Statement on Protection of Internally Displaced Persons [pdf]

The Protection Survey (IASC, 2003)
The aim of the survey is to examine through a series of country missions the way in which UN country teams and other relevant actors work to support states in discharging their primary responsibility for the protection of internally displaced persons or, in some cases, directly provide protection themselves.
The Protection Survey [pdf]

Implementing the Collaborative Response to Situations of Internal Displacement - Guidance for UN Humanitarian and/or Resident Coordinators and Country Teams (IASC, 2004)
The purpose of the policy package is to provide HCs and/or RCs and Country Teams with the guidance and tools required to implement the collaborative response in a more effective, transparent and comprehensive manner. The package is composed of the following elements.
IASC Policy Package on Internal Displacement [pdf]

Strengthening the Response to Displaced Children
This article identifies the main risks and challenges for refugee and IDP children, and outlines key elements in UNICEF's response.



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