United Nations

A/52/273


General Assembly

Distr. GENERAL  

7 August 1997

ORIGINAL:
ENGLISH


                                                        A/52/273
                                                              

General Assembly
Fifty-second session
Item 109 of the provisional agenda*


           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


                                   CONTENTS

                                                              Paragraphs Page

 I.   INTRODUCTION .........................................      1         2

II.   BACKGROUND ...........................................    2 - 9       2

III.  INTER-AGENCY COOPERATION .............................   10 - 13      4

IV.   ISSUES OF CONCERN ....................................   14 - 26      5

 V.   CURRENT RESPONSES ....................................   27 - 29      7

VI.   CONCLUSION ...........................................     30         7


                               I.  INTRODUCTION


1.   At its fifty-first session, on 12 December 1996, the General
Assembly adopted resolution 51/73, in which, inter alia, it expressed
its deep concern at the continued plight of unaccompanied refugee
minors and called upon all Governments, the Secretary-General, the
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),
all United Nations organizations, other international organizations
and non-governmental organizations concerned to exert the maximum
effort to assist and protect unaccompanied refugee minors and to
expedite their return to and reunification with their families.  The
Secretary-General was requested to report to the General Assembly at
its fifty-second session on the implementation of the resolution.


                                II.  BACKGROUND

2.   The term "unaccompanied minors" is used both by the United Nations
Children's Fund (UNICEF) and by UNHCR to refer to persons who are
under 18 years of age or under a country's legal age of majority, are
separated from both parents, and are not with and being cared for by a
guardian or other adult who by law or custom is responsible for them. 
This includes minors who are without any adult care, minors who are
entirely on their own, minors who are with minor siblings but who, as
a group, are unsupported by any adult responsible for them, and minors
who are with informal foster families.

3.   The age group covered by this definition corresponds closely with
the class of young persons who have rights recognized under the
Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The Convention recognizes that
all children and adolescents are entitled to special care and
assistance.  This age group usually comprises the majority of the
populations affected by emergencies.  Minors make up 52 per cent of
the caseload assisted by UNHCR, with the figures moving up to between
60 and 66 per cent in a number of refugee situations. 1/  Within the
populations affected by an emergency, unaccompanied or separated
minors are one of the groups most at risk.  Both children and
adolescents are in need of care and protection and are unable to care
for and protect themselves properly.  They are likely to suffer long-
term effects if their physical and developmental needs are not met. 
They are often not able to make their needs known or have them met. 
Few threats to a minor's well-being and long-term development equal
that of being involuntarily separated from his or her parents and
family.  Immediate care and protection is needed, with consideration
for the minor's long-term prospects.  This must be done without
creating the perception that unaccompanied refugee minors are a
privileged class with higher levels of assistance, and therefore
better chances of survival, than refugee children and adolescents
living with their families.

4.   The report on the impact of armed conflict on children ("the
Machel study" (A/51/306, annex)), submitted in August 1996 pursuant to
General Assembly resolution 48/157 of 20 December 1993, gave
particular attention to the situation of unaccompanied minors:

     "Children are often separated from parents in the chaos of
     conflict, escape and displacement.  Parents or other primary
     caregivers are the major source of a child's emotional and
     physical security and for this reason family separation can have a
     devastating social and psychological impact.  Unaccompanied
     children are especially vulnerable and at risk of neglect,
     violence, military recruitment, sexual assault and other abuses."

5.   UNHCR, UNICEF and non-governmental organizations working in this
field recognize this situation, and generally identify three goals
with respect to refugee minors separated from their families or
guardians.  The first is to prevent separations by taking steps, often
innovative and context-specific, to assist families in staying
together, even in the context of mass population movements.

6.   The second goal is to make every effort to reunify with their
families those minors who have been identified as unaccompanied. 
Extensive public information and multi-agency tracing activities are
often key to this task. Although these efforts are unsuccessful for
some children and adolescents, in many cases reunification with the
nuclear or extended family is achieved through painstaking tracing
efforts in both countries of asylum and countries of origin. 

7.   The third goal is to ensure adequate care of unaccompanied minors
during the time that they are separated from their families, taking
into account their particular needs and rights.  A joint effort by
UNHCR, UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Save the
Children, Radda Barnen and Food for the Hungry International resulted
in the development of an emergency kit for unaccompanied minors,
containing emergency registration books, cameras and film, a priority
action handbook and other tools.  A number of these kits have been
utilized in the recent crises in the Great Lakes region of Africa. 
Others have been stockpiled by UNHCR for deployment in future
emergencies.

8.   In some respects, the ongoing crisis in the Great Lakes region has
been a formative experience for agencies dealing with unaccompanied
minors in emergency situations owing to the fact that it engendered,
from the onset, an exceptionally high proportion of unaccompanied
minors.  By December 1996, approximately 62,000 registered
unaccompanied children and adolescents had been reunited with their
families, but during the mass repatriation from the Democratic
Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) and the United Republic of
Tanzania at the end of 1996 and the beginning of 1997, an additional
12,000 minors were identified as unaccompanied.  Of these, about 80
per cent have since been reunited with their families.  From March to
June 1997, 5,200 unaccompanied Rwandan minors were repatriated from
Kisangani and other collection points in the eastern part of the
Democratic Republic of the Congo, while the number of such minors
remaining in that country is unknown.

9.   Recent events in the Great Lakes region have underscored the need
for urgent action and priority attention to be given to identifying
and addressing the needs of minors separated from their families
during forcible and other violent displacement.  However,
repatriation, identification and follow-up of "foster" care and the
establishment of appropriate support systems for the successful
reintegration of unaccompanied minors still remain issues that need to
be addressed by concerned United Nations agencies and their
implementing partners.


                        III.  INTER-AGENCY COOPERATION

10.  The General Assembly, in its resolution 51/77 of 12 December 1996
on the rights of the child, made specific reference to the plight of
unaccompanied minors and urged that coordinated efforts be made by all
agencies to address the specific needs of minors affected by conflict
and displacement.  The Convention on the Rights of the Child itself
calls for cooperation in protection, care and tracing of unaccompanied
minors, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child attaches great
importance to the situation of these young persons.

11.  In March 1996, UNICEF and UNHCR signed a memorandum of
understanding that provides a framework for cooperation for the
development and use of global programming guidelines and standards to
ensure the proper protection, care and family reunification of
unaccompanied minors.  UNHCR takes the lead in countries of asylum,
while UNICEF has the lead role in countries of origin; in both
situations, UNHCR and UNICEF work closely with the International
Committee of the Red Cross, Save the Children and other agencies.  In
particular, the memorandum of understanding helps delineate the
specific response in a number of areas, including the following:

     (a) Assessment of the situation and needs of unaccompanied minors
among each refugee population;

     (b) Assisting in the adaptation of global principles and
guidelines for the care of unaccompanied minors, as provided in
Refugee Children:  Guidelines on Protection and Care, published by
UNHCR in 1994, and in Assisting in Emergencies (UNICEF, 1986 and 1996)
and, when required, developing and issuing situation-specific
guidelines in consultation with other organizations directly involved
in the care of such persons and/or family tracing;

     (c) Taking responsibility for coordinating and supervising
programmes for the care of unaccompanied minors and for tracing and
family reunion;

     (d) In countries of origin, UNICEF will ensure similar
consultation and cooperation with UNHCR and with national authorities
to facilitate the incorporation of unaccompanied returnee children and
adolescents into appropriate programmes.

12.  The memorandum of understanding has paved the way for increased
levels of cooperation, including discussion of possible joint missions
to assess and address the needs of separated minors and other groups
identified as particularly vulnerable and the establishment of common
standards and practices.

13.  In 1996, UNHCR signed a standby agreement with the Swedish Save
the Children, Radda Barnen, for emergency deployment of community
service officers to focus, inter alia, on the needs and rights of
unaccompanied minors during emergency or post-emergency situations. 
With the International Save the Children Alliance, UNHCR is also
carrying out a series of country evaluations, to be followed by
training and capacity-building programmes for international staff,
local staff and local authorities and groups, on a range of issues
affecting children and adolescents; the situation of unaccompanied
minors is a priority in this programme. 

                            IV.  ISSUES OF CONCERN

14.  While UNHCR, UNICEF and international and non-governmental
organizations have developed strategies continually to increase the
quality of response to the situation of unaccompanied minors, during
1996 they noted certain developments with growing concern.


           A.  Violence against refugee minors, including unaccompanied
               minors, in situations of armed conflict

15.  First among these issues is the incidence of violence against
refugee minors, including unaccompanied minors, and those who work
with them, in situations of armed conflict.

16.  For instance, in the Great Lakes region, among generalized attacks
on refugees, there have been reports of incidents in which minors
appear to have been deliberately targeted.  On 29 May 1997, a
Congolese staff member of Save the Children was killed, along with the
child he was carrying on his back, as he led a group of 11
unaccompanied minors to the Karuba collection point for repatriation.

17.  Similarly, on the night of 25-26 April 1997, a group of armed
individuals reportedly burst into the paediatric hospital at Lwiro,
outside Bukavu, and took 28 children from their hospital beds, herding
them forcibly into trucks before driving away.  A group of adults,
some of them relatives of the children, was also taken.  After
protests by international organizations, they were released by local
authorities into the custody of UNHCR, UNICEF, Save the Children and
Me'decins sans frontie`res on 30 April 1997.  Some reports indicate
that they were mistreated during the time they were being held.

18.  UNICEF noted publicly that many of the unaccompanied Rwandan
minors found in Biaro in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic
of the Congo when international organizations first reached the area
in the days after refugee settlements had been dispersed by rebel
attack, had sustained machete or bullet wounds during the attacks.


                           B.  Military recruitment

19.  Another issue of concern to UNICEF, UNHCR and other agencies
involves reports of military recruitment of refugee children and
adolescents.  Such recruitment has reportedly occurred in, among other
locations, the Great Lakes region, Sierra Leone, Myanmar, Sri Lanka,
Afghanistan, Liberia, the Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda.  While this
concern is not restricted to refugee minors, or to the unaccompanied
children and adolescents among them, it is clear that the lack of
adult protection and family support make separated minors particularly
vulnerable to military conscription.

20.  UNICEF, in conjunction with the non-governmental organization
subgroup of the NGO Working Group on the Convention on the Rights of
the Child, organized a symposium on the prevention of recruitment of
children into the armed forces and demobilization and social
reintegration of child soldiers in Africa from 23 to 30 April 1997 in
Capetown, South Africa.  The symposium led to the issuing of annotated
principles and best practice and a draft plan of action on these
issues.


                          C.  Best interest standards

21.  UNHCR, UNICEF and international and non-governmental
organizations, with the participation of the Governments concerned,
are also involved in the identification and implementation of
standards laying out the best interests of unaccompanied minors with
regard to repatriation.  UNHCR is preparing a framework to guide its
staff in identifying the best interests of refugee minors.

22.  The repatriation of children and adolescents from the former
Yugoslavia, who had been given refuge in numerous countries, including
those of western Europe, has been one focus.  In the Great Lakes
context, determining the best interests of unaccompanied refugee
minors from Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo
has included evaluations of the security situations in countries of
asylum and countries of origin.  Such decisions, which are dependent
on conditions in the region, continue to be a subject of consultation
between organizations.

23.  Cases in which the unaccompanied minors are too young to indicate
their area of origin or family names also receive particular
attention.  Some of these children are found alone, while others are
in the care of informal foster families.  In order to avoid holding
very small children in transit centres for long periods, without
adequate attention to their developmental needs, procedures should be
developed to limit the length of separations and to ensure positive
child development in the short term while long-term solutions are
being sought.  To this end, additional consideration should be given
to extending efforts at family tracing and fostering options in the
country of origin, and to developing means of seeking additional
information about the background of very young children from the
foster families and other returnees.


                       D.  Sexual exploitation and abuse

24.  Unaccompanied minors are recognized as being at risk for sexual
exploitation and abuse.  While special attention has been paid to the
situation of girls in this context, exploitation and abuse of minors
of both sexes requires special focus and response.  The situation of
unaccompanied girls returning home pregnant, often to areas in which
traditional family and extended family support networks have broken
down, has also been noted with particular concern.  Sexually
transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS are also of concern among the
adolescent and young adult populations.


           E.  Situation of unaccompanied minors in countries practising
               individual refugee status determination

25.  The situation of unaccompanied minors seeking refuge in developed
countries has become a particular element of concern.  Issues of
proper care, legal assistance and appropriate judicial review have
been a focus during the year, with some countries reviewing their
standards of determination of individual cases in order to improve
their sensitivity to the capacities and needs of children and
adolescents.

26.  In 1996, UNHCR hosted a symposium on unaccompanied children
seeking asylum, which resulted in the Office publishing, in February
1997, the Guidelines on Policies and Procedures in Dealing with
Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum.


                             V.  CURRENT RESPONSES

27.  UNHCR, UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Save
the Children, Radda Barnen and other non-governmental organizations
continue to coordinate their activities and review their practices
with the goal of improving efforts to protect and assist unaccompanied
refugee minors in various contexts around the world.  In the Great
Lakes region, inter-agency collaboration and joint development of
policies and practices are ongoing in response to the ever-changing
situation.  In the context of the former Yugoslavia, plans are under
way for an inter-agency conference to discuss best interest standards
for unaccompanied refugee children and adolescents.  The
UNHCR/International Save the Children Alliance country evaluations and
capacity-building programmes mentioned above aim to ensure that
children's and adolescents' needs are properly accounted for in
programming and protection activities, while the related training
effort has the goal of improving identification of and responses to
those needs.

28.  UNHCR is planning to create a number of senior regional adviser
for children posts in 1997 to respond more promptly and appropriately
to the needs of all refugee minors, including unaccompanied minors. 
At the same time, UNHCR is accelerating efforts to bring particular
awareness of children and adolescent issues into the mainstream of all
UNHCR programming and protection activities.

29.  The issue of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum is a topic of
ongoing dialogue among United Nations agencies, international and
non-governmental organizations and Governments.  Standards of care for
minor asylum-seekers in official custody and standards for individual
status determination are included in the debate.


                                VI.  CONCLUSION

30.  The vulnerability of refugee minors, in particular unaccompanied
children and adolescents, has long been recognized.  The Machel study
has brought the awareness of the impact of armed conflict on these
young persons to the forefront, and has given impetus to inter-agency
initiatives to better identify and address the needs of this
particularly vulnerable group.  Increasing levels of cooperation among
United Nations agencies, and between the United Nations and
non-governmental organizations, has been a key to developing
appropriate responses to the situation of these minors in contexts
across the globe, and can also benefit those in comparable situations
of internal displacement.  Capacity for emergency response, as well as
for establishing the most comprehensive and appropriate approaches to
post-emergency situations, has been greatly enhanced by this
cooperation, which all those involved hope will bear even greater
fruit in the future as agencies strive to respond to new crises and to
changes in ongoing situations involving unaccompanied minors around
the world.


                                     Notes

     1/ Populations of Concern to UNHCR:  A Statistical Overview
(Geneva, UNHCR, July 1996).


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