13.5 million children now uprooted in Africa - including those displaced by conflict, poverty and climate change

On eve of African Union Summit, UNICEF urges African States to lead in the protection and empowerment of uprooted children

09 February 2019
Refugees and migrants in Niger
UNICEF/UN0209663/Gilbertson VII Photo
A transit center for migrants who are being sent home from Algeria in Agadez, Niger, on May 10 2018. People who travel, often from West African states, are usually turned into beggars in Algeria, and after arrival at this center in the desert, they are met by local beggars who ask them for money.

Download the UNICEF data snapshot, photos and b-roll here: https://uni.cf/2EktmCU

NEW YORK/ADDIS ABABA, 9 February 2019 – At least 13.5 million uprooted children in Africa – including those living as refugees, migrants or internally displaced – need strengthened national actions, and regional and international cooperation between states to uphold their rights, keep them safe and help them fulfil their potential. Ahead of the African Union (AU) Summit in Addis Ababa, UNICEF urges AU leaders to work together to address the negative drivers of irregular migration and respond to the needs of uprooted children across the continent.

The majority of African migrants move within Africa, and while much of this movement of people is normal and regular, negative root causes remain major drivers of irregular migration across the continent,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Each day, children and families facing the ravages of violence, poverty or climate change make the painful decision to leave their homes in search of safety and a more hopeful future. Addressing these root causes will help reduce the need for families and children to leave in the first place.”

Nearly one in four migrants in Africa is a child, more than twice the global average, and 59 per cent of the 6.8 million refugees in African countries are children. Africa’s population of uprooted children includes:

  • 6.5 million international migrants, including 4 million refugees;
  • 7 million internally displaced.

At the upcoming summit, the AU is launching its year of refugees, returnees, and internally displaced persons – a regional effort to support those driven from their homes by conflict and violence, persecution, climate change, poverty, a lack of educational opportunities, and those seeking family reunification.

In addition to addressing the negative drivers of irregular migration, UNICEF is calling on African governments to implement policies and programmes to protect, empower and invest in refugee, migrant and displaced children.

“At the upcoming summit, AU leaders have a tremendous opportunity to show the rest of the world a better way by strengthening protection and support for uprooted children,” said Fore. “Some countries in the region have already made great strides through the implementation of national protection guidelines, investing in alternatives to migration detention for children, or passing laws to end child statelessness and help uprooted children access services. Now, we need to see those efforts scaled up across the continent through real investment and action.”  

In some cases, governments are already taking concrete actions and there are many promising initiatives at regional, national and local levels throughout the continent in partnership with civil society, the private sector, multi-lateral partners and young people themselves. Some of these positive examples include:

  • Zambia’s Guidelines for Protection Assistance to Vulnerable Migrants prevent unaccompanied children from being placed in detention centres;
  • Rwanda has included protections against statelessness for children in its national code; and
  • Ethiopia has updated legislation to ensure refugee children have access to essential services like education.

UNICEF is also urging AU governments to work together to collect and share better, timely and accessible data and evidence, disaggregated by age and gender, that will improve understanding of how migration and forced displacement affect children and their families.

As part of the African Agenda for Action for Children and Young People Uprooted, UNICEF is calling on governments to:

  • Protect children on the move from violence, abuse, exploitation and trafficking;
  • Strengthen transnational protection responses;
  • End the immigration detention of children;
  • Keep families together and give children legal status;
  • Keep every migrant and displaced child learning and give them access to health and other quality services without discrimination based on their legal status;
  • Address the underlying causes that uproot children from their homes; and
  • Promote measures to combat xenophobia and marginalization.

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