United Nations

A/51/329


General Assembly

Distr. GENERAL  

5 September 1996

ORIGINAL:
ENGLISH


                                                        A/51/329
                                                              

General Assembly
Fifty-first session
Item 107 of the provisional agenda*

     *   A/51/150.


              REPORT OF THE UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR 
              REFUGEES, QUESTIONS RELATING TO REFUGEES, RETURNEES
               AND DISPLACED PERSONS AND HUMANITARIAN QUESTIONS

                  Assistance to unaccompanied refugee minors

                        Report of the Secretary-General


                               I.  INTRODUCTION

1.   At its fiftieth session, on 21 December 1995, the General Assembly
adopted resolution 50/150, in which, inter alia, it:

     (a) Reaffirmed its resolution 49/172 of 23 December 1995, took
note of the report of the Secretary-General on assistance to
unaccompanied minors (A/50/555) and expressed its deep concern at the
plight of unaccompanied refugee minors;

     (b) Called upon all Governments, the Secretary-General, the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and all United Nations
organizations and non-governmental organizations concerned to exert
the maximum effort to assist and protect refugee minors and to
expedite the return to and reunification with their families;

     (c) Urged the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR), all United Nations and other organizations concerned
to take appropriate steps to mobilize resources commensurate to the
needs and interests of the unaccompanied refugee minors and for their
reunification with their families;

     (d) Condemned all acts of exploitation of the unaccompanied
minors, including their use as soldiers or human shields in armed
conflict and their recruitment into military forces, and any other acts that
endanger their safety and personal security;

     (e) Called upon the Secretary-General, the High Commissioner, the
Department of Humanitarian Affairs of the Secretariat, the United
Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other United Nations
organizations to mobilize adequate assistance to unaccompanied minors
in the area of relief, education, health and psychological
rehabilitation;

     (f) Requested the Secretary-General to report to the General
Assembly at its fifty-first session on the implementation of the
resolution.


                                II.  BACKGROUND

2.   Children usually constitute more than half of the total refugee
population. Because they are vulnerable, dependent and developing,
refugee children need targeted care and assistance.  Unaccompanied
children have the same needs as other children.  In addition, they
have protection and assistance needs that are specific to refugee
children who have become separated from their families.

3.   All children are entitled to the provision of their basic
subsistence needs.  Assistance to separated children or to adults or
organizations responsible for their care must be provided in a manner
that adequately meets their basic needs at a standard comparable to
their surrounding community.  Vulnerable families must not be led to
believe that unaccompanied children are a "privileged" class, standing
a better chance of survival than children living with families. 
Hunger and poverty threaten family unity and care must be taken to
ensure that vulnerable families are supported.  The present report
focuses on protection and assistance needs that are specific to
refugee children who are unaccompanied.

4.   In keeping with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (General
Assembly resolution 44/25, annex), a child, or a minor, is considered
to be a person below the age of 18 years unless, under the law
applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.  The term
"refugee child" may in the present report be understood to include
those children who are refugees, returnees, asylum-seekers and
displaced persons or others of concern to UNHCR.

5.   UNHCR and UNICEF define unaccompanied children as those who are
separated from both parents and are not being cared for by an adult
who, by law or by custom, is responsible for doing so.  While
unaccompanied children are now carefully registered in most refugee
situations, it is difficult to determine the number of unaccompanied
children worldwide.  Availability of reliable statistics, the
awareness of the presence of unaccompanied children, differences from
one refugee situation to another as to who is considered to be an
unaccompanied child and the way in which countries record such
children vary greatly.  For example, more than 100,000 Rwandan
children have been registered as unaccompanied, inside and outside
their country of origin, while there is no equivalent global estimate
regarding Liberian children considered to be unaccompanied, in their
country of origin and in neighbouring countries.


                        III.  INTER-AGENCY COOPERATION

6.   UNHCR is mandated to provide international protection and
assistance to refugees, including refugee children, and to promote
durable solutions to their problems.  UNICEF also, in accordance with
its mandate, has been called upon by its Executive Board to provide
emergency assistance to refugee and displaced children and women.

7.   The heads of UNHCR and UNICEF in March 1996 signed a memorandum of
understanding whereby the two agencies agreed, inter alia, to
strengthen collaboration to develop, coordinate and apply appropriate
policies, standards and strategies for the care and family
reunification of unaccompanied children. 

8.   Unaccompanied children are found both within their country of
origin and in exile among refugee populations.  The memorandum of
understanding provides that, within the country of origin, UNICEF will
assist national authorities to develop, coordinate and apply
appropriate policies, standards and strategies for the care and family
reunification of unaccompanied children in their own country.  UNHCR
takes the lead in relation to unaccompanied children among refugee
populations.

9.   The two organizations will collaborate in the further development
and use of global programming guidelines and standards, will ensure
the necessary operational coordination and information-sharing between
operations in countries of asylum and of origin and will develop
guidelines and training materials for activities addressing the needs
of children traumatized by exposure to armed conflict and extreme
violence.  Both agencies will coordinate with the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in relation to tracing and
reunification activities.

10.  Collaboration between the two agencies has been particularly close
in the Rwanda/Burundi emergency.  Of the more that 100,000
unaccompanied children registered in and outside Rwanda and Burundi as
a result of the conflict, more than 33,000 children had been reunited
with their families by 1 May 1996. Tracing continues, and in the
meantime most children live in foster families. Orphanages and centres
for unaccompanied children have been systematically closed down in
many locations and the children have been moved back into their
community.

11.  There are many serious threats facing children in the
Rwanda/Burundi situation.  Good results in tracing and reunification
of unaccompanied children should, however, be acknowledged.  Results
are due, inter alia, to cooperation between UNHCR, UNICEF and ICRC,
including the development of joint standards and policies, and the
close collaboration with non-governmental organizations, Governments
and local authorities.  Cooperation with non-governmental
organizations with expertise in registration, tracing and family
reunification and in prevention of further separation of families was
developed over the reporting period.


                 IV.  EMERGENCY KIT FOR UNACCOMPANIED CHILDREN

12.  Within the framework of the then ongoing deliberations over the
memorandum of understanding between UNHCR and UNICEF, the two agencies
decided to develop jointly an emergency kit for unaccompanied
children, to be deployed in emergency situations to facilitate
coordination and enhance the quality of the response to the needs of
separated children.  It was seen as important to give this initiative
a broad base, building on lessons learned from earlier emergencies and
those practices that have proved to be in the best interests of the
child.

13.  ICRC and some highly specialized non-governmental organizations
(Save the Children Fund, Ra"dda Barnen and Food for the Hungry
International) were invited, together with UNICEF and UNHCR staff, to
a workshop in Nairobi in December 1995.  The purpose of the workshop
was to make recommendations as to priority policy messages to convey
early in an emergency situation and possible tools that could
facilitate the work of the staff of the United Nations and non-
governmental organizations facing large numbers of unaccompanied
children.

14.  Based on recommendations from the workshop, the two United Nations
agencies have jointly developed a priority actions handbook - a
checklist of what to do, in which sequence, how and with which tools -
and assembled a sample emergency kit containing those tools.  Among
the tools are cameras and film for registration and photo tracing, a
megaphone for immediate reunification attempts in-camp, copies of a
registration handbook to ensure that important information about the
child is registered as soon as possible, and written models and
samples of forms and agreements that have worked in earlier
emergencies. 

15.  The sample emergency kit will need some minor refinement and will
be shared with the non-governmental organizations that largely
contributed to its creation for their comments and advice.  It should,
however, be noted that if a refugee emergency were to erupt, the
sample kit would be ready for field testing.  Staff would thus have
written policy guidance and practical tools to help ensure that the
needs of unaccompanied children are met to the extent possible and
that avoidable mistakes are not repeated. 

16.  The next steps in the joint development of standards and tools by
UNHCR and UNICEF are a training video and a training programme for
field staff of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations
who would be deployed in an emergency situation without the necessary
experience in handling a major influx of unaccompanied children.


                          V.  PSYCHOSOCIAL WELL-BEING

17.  Psychosocial needs of unaccompanied children are intrinsic to
basic needs and should not be relegated to a position of secondary
importance.  The provision of food, shelter, water and other services
related to physical survival often takes precedence in large-scale
emergencies.  Meeting developmental needs is equally essential,
particularly for children living without the emotional support of
their family.

18.  Guidance on how to provide psychosocial support to unaccompanied
children is part of the emergency kit described in section IV above. 
The best solution is to trace and reunify the child with his or her
family.  Growing up in a good foster family with support from the
community while tracing continues may also provide good support for
the child.  Centres for unaccompanied children or orphanages usually
are unable to meet fully the emotional and developmental needs of the
children, and, with the active support of Governments, other and more
appropriate long-term, family-based solutions are identified.

19.  UNHCR tries to include the re-establishment of a family and
community-based psychosocial support system within the framework of
its community services. UNICEF activities for unaccompanied Rwandan
children in eastern Zaire included trauma counselling through the
assistance of implementing partners and a system for tracing and
foster care for separated children.  In Burundi, UNICEF assistance
included the identification of 14,000 unaccompanied children, mainly
from the 1993 emergency, of which 11,000 were placed in foster
families.  UNICEF also has provided guidelines for parents, social
workers and educators on dealing with traumatized children.


                   VI.  SOME PERSISTENT PROTECTION PROBLEMS

20.  In the following paragraphs, three issues of concern related to
the protection of unaccompanied children will be discussed:  (a)
military recruitment and child soldiers; (b) sexual exploitation; and
(c) the evacuation of children from zones of conflict.  In the areas
of child soldiers and sexual exploitation, new research commissioned
by the United Nations Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on
Children (the Machel Study) has added to the knowledge of  the
character and the scope of the problems.


                           A.  Military recruitment

21.  The report entitled "Children:  the invisible soldiers" of the
Child Soldiers Research Project, headed by representatives of the
Quaker United Nations Office and the International Catholic Child
Bureau, for the United Nations Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict
on Children, clearly documents that unaccompanied refugee children are
among those most likely to be recruited, whether willingly or
unwillingly.

22.  Three of the findings of the Child Soldiers Research Project are
of particular importance to the protection of unaccompanied refugee
children. First, the evidence of the report is that children are
recruited predominantly because too few adult recruits are
forthcoming, or in order to use them as spies or to commit atrocities. 
Children become soldiers because they are available and are more
easily forced, intimidated or persuaded into joining armed forces or
groups.  Those children who volunteered to serve in non-governmental
armed groups most commonly cited a sense of personal or family
vulnerability arising from harassment by governmental armed forces. 
Among the most likely to be recruited are children separated from
their family, the socially and economically deprived, including those
without access to education, and marginalized groups such as street
children, certain minorities, refugees and internally displaced. 
Children from the conflict zones are among the most likely to be
recruited.

23.  Secondly, it is documented that Governments can prevent or
minimize under-age recruitment by introducing proper recruitment
procedures, prohibiting forced recruitment and introducing a clear
minimum age.  Proper safeguards, including requirements of proof of
age, should be enforced to ensure that under-age recruitment does not
take place.  To require proof of age, however, presupposes that
individuals have a birth registration or identity document.  Lack of
documentation is sometimes a problem where unaccompanied refugee
children are concerned and is an area requiring attention.  Thirdly,
children and their families need to know their rights and the means of
redress open to them.

24.  The many problems faced by demobilized child soldiers, including
difficulties in reintegrating into their families and communities and
the risk of remaining isolated from any system of care, protection and
support, are yet another argument in favour of added attention to the
prevention of recruitment and participation of children.  UNHCR and
UNICEF strongly support the adoption of a proposed optional protocol
to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on involvement of
children in armed conflict, raising the minimum age of any kind of
recruitment into armed forces or armed groups and for any kind of
participation in hostilities to 18 years.  Both agencies actively
participate, as does ICRC, in the Working Group established under the
Commission on Human Rights to draft such an optional protocol.

25.  In Angola, Rwanda, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Liberia, UNICEF,
in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, is taking an
active part in negotiating the release of child combatants into its
care for trauma counselling, relief assistance, reunification with
their families and rehabilitation, including education and vocational
training.  UNHCR is running programmes for children who have been
associated with the former military, inter alia, in camps in the Great
Lakes region.

26.  The Child Soldiers Research Project makes several recommendations
directed to Governments, UNHCR, UNICEF and others.  The final report
of the United Nations Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on
Children, to be presented to the General Assembly at its fifty-first
session, has made the banning of child participation in armed conflict
one of its priority themes.  UNHCR and UNICEF will carefully review
the recommendations of the study in this area and the background
material from the Child Soldiers Research Project with a view to how
the agencies can contribute most effectively to the protection of
children against these forms of abuse.


                            B.  Sexual exploitation

27.  Progress has been made through research commissioned by the Machel
Study in documenting the nature and magnitude of sexual violence
against children in situations of armed conflict.  As is the case of
child soldiers, unaccompanied refugee children are also at risk of
sexual exploitation and abuse.  A preliminary study entitled "An End
to Silence" based on 12 country reports, has been done by Terre des
Hommes on behalf of the non-governmental organization Group for the
Convention on the Rights of the Child.  It documents that once a child
has been removed from the protective framework of the family, owing to
violence or disruption caused by armed conflict, or because the family
lives in extreme poverty, the child becomes much more vulnerable to
sexual violence, abuse or exploitation.

28.  The preliminary study for the Machel Study was done in preparation
for the World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of
Children, to be held at Stockholm in August 1996.  UNICEF is one of
the organizers of the World Congress and UNHCR together with the Group
for the Convention on the Rights of the Child will co-sponsor a
Congress working group focusing on the sexual exploitation of children
during armed conflict.  The vulnerability of unaccompanied children in
this context will be highlighted, and recommendations for the enhanced
protection of unaccompanied refugee children against such abuse will
be discussed.

29.  Sexual violence against children in armed conflict includes rape,
sexual humiliation, forcing children to witness sexual violence
against relatives or friends, and the involvement of children in
prostitution, remunerated in cash or in kind.  Children particularly
at risk include those who are already in difficult circumstances,
including unaccompanied children, those displaced with their families
and those affected by poverty.  Some boys are targeted for sexual
violence, but the overwhelming majority of the victims are girls.

30.  On the basis of the case studies for the Terre des Hommes report,
the main perpetrators of sexual abuse and exploitation of children
appear to be the armed forces of the parties to the conflict.  In
addition to rape and other forms of sexual violence, the military
frequently appear to take advantage of their position of power and of
the disruption caused by conflict to exploit children and adolescents
sexually.  Furthermore, 6 of the 12 country reports prepared for the
Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child mention the
presence of peacekeeping forces as having favoured the development of
child prostitution.


                          C.  Evacuation of children

31.  Evacuation of children from areas of conflict has continued over
the last year.  Some children have encountered problems upon return -
or because they have not been able or willing to return.  Most
recently, in Liberia, an orphanage with 75 Sierra Leonean
unaccompanied children had to be evacuated from Monrovia to Freetown
when the fighting started again in early May.  These children had
earlier been evacuated from Vahun to Monrovia when the security
situation in Vahun deteriorated in December 1993.  The files of the
children were lost during the looting of their centre in Monrovia.
Re-registration has been done to the extent possible in Freetown, and
efforts will be made to trace families in Sierra Leone and in Guinea.

32.  In Rwanda, following the closure of Kibeho camp for internally
displaced persons, UNICEF organized a search for the unaccompanied
children in the camp. With the assistance of the United Nations
Assistance Mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR) and non-governmental
organizations these children were transported to safe sites. 
Evacuations of unaccompanied children to safer sites have also taken
place in Burundi, initiated by UNHCR, owing to security incidents. 
Most children were transferred to another camp, while adolescents
living independently fled to the United Republic of Tanzania.  Their
individual files have been transferred to the UNHCR office there to
facilitate tracing.

33.  Some individual unaccompanied children and groups of children who
were evacuated to European countries in the early days of the conflict
in Rwanda have been returned to their home country, with or without
the involvement of UNHCR.  It may be recalled that UNHCR, together
with UNICEF, ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and
Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in 1994 issued a statement on, inter
alia, evacuation, referring to the situation in Rwanda.  Parties
considering the evacuation of children were recommended first to
explore possibilities of taking children to neighbouring countries.  A
group of Rwandan children evacuated to Italy returned late in 1995,
while another group of 46 children returned from France in July 1996. 
Negotiations are ongoing for the return of individual cases, of which
several remain pending.  This may serve to illustrate that evacuations
of children may last much longer than intended, and that many
practical and emotional obstacles to return of the evacuated child may
further disrupt family links in a way that was not foreseen at the
time of the evacuation.

34.  Owing to the tense security situation in Burundi and the high
number of unaccompanied children, much attention has been given to
keeping the files of the children updated and available in case
children have to leave quickly again.  UNICEF has assisted in the
setting-up of a national network to assure follow-up of unaccompanied
children living in foster families.

35.  In the aftermath of evacuations undertaken from the former
Yugoslavia in the early days of the conflict, in particular from
Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is still concern that not all children
have been properly registered.  To date approximately 7,000
unaccompanied children have been registered in Bosnia and Herzegovina,
Croatia, Slovenia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the former
Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia under the UNHCR Operation ReUNite
programme.  With the signing of the Dayton Agreement, an environment
now exists in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the registering and assisting
of unaccompanied children.  UNHCR, through its implementing partners
in both the Federation and the Republika Srpska area, is currently
carrying out a registration of unaccompanied children who were unable
to be registered during the conflict period.  UNHCR estimates that the
number of such children could be well above 300.

36.  UNHCR, UNICEF and several non-governmental organizations are
working closely with local social services authorities inside Bosnia
and Herzegovina to trace and reunify unaccompanied children with their
families and to set up alternative care for those whose families have
not been found.  Training of national staff is an important component
of this collaboration.

37.  UNHCR is currently undertaking a survey of all unaccompanied
children resettled from 1985 to 1995 through Headquarters. 
Preliminary findings indicate that more than 80 per cent of all
unaccompanied children did in fact have family links in resettlement
countries.  A large group of those without links is constituted by
Vietnamese refugees resettled in the late 1980s.  Family links play a
critical role in helping the young adjust to the significant social,
cultural and psychological challenges of adapting to a new
environment.  It should be noted that resettlement is considered only
on an exceptional basis after case-by-case examination.  In general,
resettlement is promoted when other solutions are not appropriate.  In
some cases, resettlement may be the only viable durable solution for
an unaccompanied child.


              VII.  UNACCOMPANIED CHILDREN IN COUNTRIES PRACTISING
                    INDIVIDUAL REFUGEE STATUS DETERMINATION

38.  During the reporting period, several initiatives were taken
relating to unaccompanied refugee children in countries practising
individual refugee status determination, including countries in
Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.  In the
European Union, for example, a draft resolution on unaccompanied
children is under preparation for consideration by the Working Group
on Asylum in the third quarter of 1996.

39.  It was also decided at the Full Round of Consultations at Berlin
in February 1996 to place unaccompanied children as a first priority
on the work plan of the Inter-Governmental Consultations on Asylum,
Refugee and Migration Policies in Europe, North America and Australia
for 1996.  Information on the varying legislation, policies and
practices on unaccompanied children is being collected in preparation
for discussion in a Senior Officials' meeting towards the end of 1996. 
The Secretariat was also mandated to report on the legal frameworks
and practices on family reunification in participating States.
Furthermore, the situation of children seeking asylum in European
countries was on the agenda of the European Consultation of the United
Nations Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, held at
Florence in June 1996.

40.  Receiving countries have responded to the plight of unaccompanied
children through a range of governmental and non-governmental
activities.  Nonetheless, UNHCR considers it imperative to ensure that
effective protection and assistance is delivered to unaccompanied
children in a systematic, comprehensive and integrated way.  What may
be acceptable procedures for adult asylum-seekers may not be in
keeping with the principles of the best interests of the child and the
principle of non-discrimination of children within the jurisdiction of
a State party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Gaps in
the protection and care of children arriving alone in a country may
occur, whatever the background and the circumstances.

41.  In this context, UNHCR has prepared a draft position paper
advocating a set of principles and recommendations for childcare and
protection, as contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child,
which should be applied in conjunction with the UNHCR Guidelines on
Refugee Children.  This paper will be discussed in a symposium
organized by UNHCR in September 1996 for government representatives
from countries concerned and selected non-governmental organizations. 
The latter play an active role in many countries in the reception of
unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and in the promotion of more
child-friendly asylum procedures.

42.  The principles set out by UNHCR include the stipulation that under
no circumstances should a child be refused access to the territory or
be exposed to automatic fast-track procedures.  It is further stated
that children should be entitled to access to asylum procedures
regardless of their age, that they should not be detained, that their
application should be given priority, as should an eventual appeal,
and that the durable solution identified for the child should be
pursued as quickly as possible to avoid a child living in limbo longer
than absolutely necessary. 

43.  It is also suggested that a multi-disciplinary panel be
established in each country of asylum to decide on a case-by-case
basis which solution is in the best interests of a child who has been
determined not to be a refugee, be it  local integration, resettlement
or return to the child's home country.  Active tracing for the child's
family in the country of origin is among the steps recommended for a
child not in need of international protection.  Finally, it is
recommended that rather than setting up separate asylum procedures for
unaccompanied children, all persons involved in working with
unaccompanied children should be trained to understand their needs and
learn the most effective ways to help them.

44.  It is hoped that this UNHCR initiative will prompt discussions
about protection, assistance and care for unaccompanied children in
each asylum country and development of safeguards to ensure that the
needs of unaccompanied children are being met.  Furthermore, it is
hoped that it will enhance the cooperation of a variety of government
bodies and specialized non-governmental organizations in delivering an
effective continuum of protection and care.


                       VIII.  A COMMUNITY-BASED APPROACH

45.  Communities and local authorities have the primary responsibility
for assuring children's survival and well-being.  Outside planning,
programming and funding must be oriented to building capacities to
ensure that the welfare of unaccompanied children is met within local
families and communities.

46.  All efforts to assist unaccompanied children should be based upon
existing, positive cultural mechanisms within the refugee community
for caring for children separated from their parents.  Building upon
and using the resources and coping mechanisms of the community should
be the main approach, and the community should be involved in all
aspects of the care and monitoring of unaccompanied children.  There
are encouraging examples of programmes where the community has taken
responsibility for identifying appropriate foster families, setting
standards for care and protection of children living in families other
than their own and for setting up monitoring mechanisms.  Children who
are actively protected through the involvement of their own community
are likely to have a greater chance of being fully integrated in a
longer-term perspective, during both the repatriation period and the
period of reintegration in the home country.


                                IX.  CONCLUSION

47.  The particular vulnerability of refugee children who are
unaccompanied is widely recognized.  UNHCR and UNICEF have made a
commitment, through their active participation in the United Nations
Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, to help document
existing protection gaps and carefully review the recommendations of
the Study in areas relevant to unaccompanied refugee children.  This
will be done with a view to the implementation of measures where
possible and within each agency's mandate to prevent further family
separation and assist children who have become separated from their
families, and to enhance active tracing and family reunification
efforts.  The closer and developing collaboration between UNICEF and
UNHCR has prepared the ground for an improved emergency response to
potential future refugee emergencies involving unaccompanied children,
while at the same time ensuring compatibility with long-term solutions
for the child, with those solutions most often to be found in the
country of origin.  It is also hoped that this closer collaboration,
involving specialized non-governmental organizations, and the momentum
created by the final phases of the Study and its recommendations will
further contribute to an improved response to the needs of
unaccompanied refugee children.


                                     ----- 

This document has been posted online by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). Reproduction and dissemination of the document - in electronic and/or printed format - is encouraged, provided acknowledgement is made of the role of the United Nations in making it available.

Date last posted: 28 December 1999 17:35:10
Comments and suggestions: esa@un.org