United Nations


General Assembly

Distr. GENERAL  

26 August 1998


                                                      Original: English
General Assembly
Fifty-third session
Item 108 of the provisional agenda*
Report of the United Nations High 
  Commissioner for Refugees:
  questions relating to refugees, 
  returnees and displaced persons and
  humanitarian questions

     * A/53/150.

                Assistance to unaccompanied refugee minors

                      Report of the Secretary-General


                                                     Paragraphs   Page

  I.  Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   1-4        2

 II.  Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5-8        2

III.  Inter-agency cooperation . . . . . . . . . . . .   9-11       3

 IV.  New initiatives developed in 1997. . . . . . . .  12-19       3

      A.  Action for the Rights of Children. . . . . .  12-14       3

      B.  Family tracing and reunification . . . . . .  15-16       3

      C.  UNHCR/ISCA initiatives . . . . . . . . . . .  17-18       4

      D.  Special Representative of the 
          Secretary-General for children in armed
          conflict . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    19        4

  V.  Issues of concern. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  20-26       4

      A.  Regional issues. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  20-24       4

      B.  The girl child . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    25        5

      C.  Unaccompanied children seeking asylum. . . .    26        5

 VI.  Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    27        5

        I.     Introduction

1.   At its fifty-second session, on 12 December 1997, the
General Assembly adopted resolution 52/105 in which it
expressed its deep concern at the continued plight of
unaccompanied refugee minors, emphasizing the urgent
need for their early identification and for timely, detailed
and accurate information on their numbers and whereabouts,
and hoped that adequate resources would be provided for
programmes of identification and tracing. The Assembly
called upon the Office of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in cooperation with
other relevant United Nations bodies, to incorporate into
its programmes policies that aim at preventing refugee
family separation, conscious of the importance of family

2.   The Assembly further called upon all States and other
parties to armed conflict to respect international
humanitarian law and called upon States parties to respect
fully the provisions of the Geneva Conventions of 12
August 1949 and related instruments, while bearing in mind
resolution 2 of the twenty-sixth International Conference
of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and to respect the
provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
(resolution 44/25, annex), which accord children affected
by armed conflict special protection and treatment.

3.   In addition, the Assembly condemned all acts of
exploitation of unaccompanied refugee minors, including
their use as soldiers or human shields in armed conflict and
their forced recruitment into military forces, and any other
acts that endangered their safety and personal security.

4.   This report includes information of action taken by
the United Nations and relevant United Nations bodies in
response to resolution 52/105.

       II.     Background

5.   The term "unaccompanied minor" is used by the
United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), UNHCR and
others to refer to a person who is under 18 years of age or
the legal age of majority, is separated from both parents,
and is not with and being cared for by a guardian or other
adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for him or her.
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. Article 22 of the Convention on the Rights
of the Child addresses the situation of refugee children and
makes particular reference to unaccompanied children. The
Committee on the Rights of the Child is entrusted with
monitoring the implementation of the Convention, mainly
through the reporting procedure. During the past decade
there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people
who are internally displaced or directly affected by warfare
but who do not cross international borders and do not
benefit from the provisions of refugee law. Many of these
people are children who have become separated from their
families or whose parents lost their lives in the conflict.

6.   In the turmoil of conflict and flight, children easily
become separated from their families and caretakers.
Although all refugees, uprooted from their homes and
communities, are unprotected to a certain extent, separated
children are even more vulnerable. Boys and girls on their
own are easy targets for recruitment into armed groups, as
combatants, porters, spies or servants, and they are at high
risk of exploitation and physical or sexual abuse, and even
death. Involuntary separation thus increases the risks faced
by the displaced, refugee and other war-affected children;
it can be more traumatic than the displacement itself. The
goal of UNHCR, UNICEF and other agencies working on
the ground is, where possible, to prevent separations, to
identify children who have become separated from their
families and to reunite them with their families in a timely

7.   It is known that child abandonment sometimes occurs
when families assume that relief agencies are better able to
provide optimal care and protection to their children in
crisis situations. Thus, it is incumbent on relief agencies to
provide assistance in a coordinated, community-based
manner which enhances the ability of the family and
extended kinship networks to ensure the well-being of

8.   All agencies are working continually to improve their
services for this at-risk group. In October 1997 UNHCR's
Inspection and Evaluation Service published an evaluation
of UNHCR's efforts on behalf of children and adolescents,
which called for greater attention to separated minor asylum
seekers, including age-appropriate procedures for
determining status, increased training for field staff on
protection and programming, establishment of regional
networks for tracing and reunification, rapid deployment of
community service officers to emergency situations, and
focus on community-based care. UNHCR's follow-up
strategy to the report on the impact of armed conflict on
children ("Machel study"; A/51/306, annex) identifies
separated children as one of five priority issues for field

               III. Inter-agency cooperation

9.   UNHCR works together with UNICEF, the Office of
the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), the
Special Representative of the Secretary-General on children
in armed conflict, the Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, and
a range of international and non-governmental organizations
to extend the required protection and assistance to
unaccompanied refugee, displaced and other war-affected
children. Agencies endeavour to ensure that the
consolidated appeal process reflects priorities decided
jointly by the humanitarian community, including local and
international non-governmental organizations.

10.  The 1996 memorandum of understanding between
UNHCR and UNICEF gives primary responsibility for the
welfare of refugee children to UNHCR, while UNICEF
takes the lead role for children in their country of origin.
Over the past few years, UNHCR, UNICEF, and
organizations and agencies such as the International
Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation
of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the
International Save the Children Alliance (ISCA) have
established a close working relationship with regard to
unaccompanied minors. This includes establishment of
technical guidelines at the global level, and field-level
coordination to provide care and services.

11.  Children may also become separated from their
families during war-related displacement within their
national borders. With regard to those internally displaced,
the regional emergency relief coordinators of the Office for
the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs are focal points
and collaborate closely with all relevant partners. The
emergency relief coordinator has initiated a series of
consultations with the United Nations High Commissioner
for Human Rights and with the Special Representative of
the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons. The
Office is publishing a pamphlet of the Special
Representative's guiding principles on internal
displacement, for dissemination to United Nations agencies,
international organizations, non-governmental organizations
and national authorities. The principles reaffirm the right
of families to remain together and to be speedily reunited,
if separated, and call on responsible authorities to facilitate
inquiries made by family members and to cooperate with
humanitarian organizations engaged in the task of family

          IV.  New initiatives developed in 1997

           A.  Action for the Rights of Children

12.  Action for the Rights of Children (ARC) is a
collaborative effort between UNHCR and the International
Save the Children Alliance (ISCA). ARC's primary goal is
to increase the capacity of UNHCR and of the staff of other
United Nations bodies, non-governmental organizations and
Governments to protect and care for children and
adolescents during all stages of refugee situations, from
emergency interventions through the finding of durable

13.  To that end, a series of training modules have been
prepared on fundamental issues such as international legal
standards and principles, working with unaccompanied
children and child soldiers, and prevention of exploitation
and abuse. Special attention is paid to issues of particular
relevance to girls, such as prevention of sexual exploitation
and reproductive health.

14.  Two regional capacity-building workshops took place
in the first half of 1998, and two more are scheduled for the
end of the year. Participants review the content of training
modules and identify training methods in accordance with
the political, economic, social and cultural context of their
region. They also identify pilot projects that address critical
issues affecting children and adolescents. The workshops
establish regional training teams that identify needs and
develop action plans. The needs are addressed through
further ARC workshops, joint situation assessments by 
non-governmental organizations and UNHCR, and team
deployments. As child and adolescent concerns become
increasingly part of mainstream programming and
protection activities, ARC will become incorporated into
existing training programmes.

        B.     Family tracing and reunification

15.  Throughout 1997, UNICEF, UNHCR, ICRC and
others participated in a collaborative inter-agency effort for
tracing unaccompanied children and reuniting them with
their families, focusing principally on finding the families
of more than 26,000 children identified as unaccompanied
after the mass return of Rwandans from the Congo in late
1996. By April 1998, more than 18,000 of the children had
been reunited with their families; roughly 6,000 remain in
48 institutions across the country of origin, awaiting
reunification. While tracing continues, UNICEF, UNHCR
and non-governmental organizational partners have
continued to provide basic support (shelter, food, water,
medical care) with ongoing tracing, reunification and
fostering activities.

16.  In November 1997, Save the Children called an 
inter-agency meeting on family tracing and reunification in
Nairobi. Participants included UNHCR, UNICEF, ICRC
and involved non-governmental organizations. The meeting
produced an inter-agency action plan addressing the
prevention of separation, inter-agency collaboration,
fostering, reunification and reintegration. A follow-up
meeting was held in Geneva in June 1998.

        C.     UNHCR/ISCA initiatives

17.  One finding of the 1997 evaluation of UNHCR's
efforts on behalf of children and adolescents was that
UNHCR needed to strengthen its links to other United
Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations. In
response, UNHCR has entered into discussions with the
International Save the Children Alliance (ISCA) about joint
regional initiatives in the Horn of Africa and West Africa,
with the objective of improving regional capacities to
protect and care for children and adolescents, particularly
unaccompanied minors, war-affected children and
adolescents and those with particular educational needs.

18.  Potential activities include joint situation assessments,
regional contingency planning, increasing rapid response
capacities through the deployment of emergency kits for
unaccompanied children (including registration and tracing
supplies), and education and recreation kits for emergency

     D.  Special Representative of the Secretary-General 
         for children in armed conflict

19.  The agencies welcomed the appointment of Mr. Olara
Otunnu as Special Representative of the Secretary-General
for children in armed conflict and look forward to working
with him on issues affecting separated children and other
war-affected children, including the risks of recruitment and
sexual exploitation. UNHCR, UNICEF, UNHCHR, the
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and
others are searching for ways to collaborate more closely
with him in his work and to enhance efforts for assisting
war-affected children and adolescents across the globe. In
his March 1998 interim report to the Economic and Social
Council (E/CN.4/1998/119), the Special Representative
stressed that the breakdown of social value systems and the
disintegration of families and communities in times of war
left women and girls especially vulnerable to sexual
violence. Various bodies of the United Nations system are
beginning to realize the grave issues affecting children in
armed conflict. On 29 June 1998, for example, an open
debate on the topic was held in the Security Council.

        V.     Issues of concern

        A.     Regional issues

20.  UNICEF, working closely with UNHCR, non-governmental 
organizations, the parents of targeted children
and other concerned parties, is pressing for an end to the
systematic abduction of children from northern Uganda by
members of an armed group, the Lord's Resistance Army
(LRA), and for the immediate return to Uganda of the
estimated 2,000 children still held captive by that group in
its base camps in southern Sudan. It is estimated that
between 6,000 and 8,000 children, most between the ages
of 10 and 17, have been forcibly taken from their schools,
homes and villages since the group began its systematic
abductions approximately five years ago. Roughly half have
managed to escape their captors and have provided first-hand 
accounts of the horrific treatment they endured. They
were tortured, enslaved, raped and otherwise abused; made
to attack their own villages, killing family members and
acquaintances; and forced to torture and execute other
children who disobeyed their commanders or attempted to
escape. Based on these accounts, it is estimated that half of
those who were unable to escape have died in captivity.

21.  United Nations agencies and non-governmental
organizations are also collaborating on finding solutions for
unaccompanied minors among the residents of camps for
internally displaced people in the Sudan.

22.  Although the mass return home of Rwandan refugees
from the Congo and the United Republic of Tanzania largely
ended in early 1997, a number of serious issues affecting
separated children remain. In Rwanda, for example, there
is growing awareness among international humanitarian
workers of the high incidence of child-headed households
among the returnee population. These children are
extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, especially
since an estimated 75 per cent of the households are headed
by girls. Security concerns in Burundi led to a review of
tracing efforts on the part of some agencies and an
intensification of activity by others.

23.  Finally, in the Congo, UNHCR and non-governmental
organizations have located a sizeable number of refugee
children still living with local Congolese families. Many are
reluctant to return to Rwanda, particularly those under five
years of age who are too small to give tracing information
and adolescents afraid of being targeted as militants in
Rwanda. Burundi refugee children separated from their
families are also in an extremely delicate situation. For most
of the year, living in eastern Congo and in their countries
of origin seemed equally precarious. Two important
developments in the Great Lakes region of Africa have been
the strengthening of methods for locating families of the
youngest children, always among the most difficult to trace,
and the increase in collaboration between agencies in order
to maximize the effectiveness of efforts, particularly in
situations of scarce resources.

24.  In Kakuma, Kenya, UNHCR is working with key non-governmental
organizations to identify resettlement options
for some of the "lost boys", unaccompanied Sudanese
children who have been living on their own for several
years. For many of these youths, tracing has been either
unsuccessful or impossible to carry out, and repatriation is
not an option since they are from conflict areas. They are
particularly vulnerable to recruitment and other forms of

        B.     The girl child

25.  Refugee children and adolescents under the age of 18
years constitute 52 per cent of the 22.7 million persons of
concern to UNHCR, and half of these young refugees are
girls. Similar demographics and numbers apply to
population groups who are internally displaced. The
changing nature of armed conflict and displacement means
that girls who are refugees or internally displaced are no
longer simply incidental victims of conflicts and
displacement but, increasingly, are targets for exploitation,
militarization and politicization. Their needs overlap with
those of adult refugees but, largely because they are
developing, dependent and vulnerable, they also have
distinct protection and assistance needs and rights. Key
threats affecting girls include sexual violence, exploitation
and abuse, under-aged recruitment and child labour. Their
needs include birth registration and identity documents,
education, vocational training and income-generation
activities, food and nutrition, adolescent reproductive health
care and issues relating to disability and social and
psychological health. Refugee girls who find themselves
alone, beyond the protection of family and community, are
even more at risk and in need of support.

        C.     Unaccompanied children seeking asylum

26.  In 1997 UNHCR issued new guidelines on policies
and procedures in dealing with unaccompanied children
seeking asylum. The guidelines are the basis for policy
reformulation and training of governmental officials in 
age-sensitive and age-appropriate refugee procedures for
determining status.

                   VI.  Conclusion

27.  UNHCR, UNICEF, UNHCHR, ICRC and non-governmental 
organizations continue to make strides in
improving their efforts on behalf of unaccompanied minors.
The Special Representative to the Secretary-General on
children in armed conflict is making an important
contribution to this ongoing work. However, on a daily
basis, in crisis settings such as those currently in Sierra
Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Kosovo, children trapped in and
fleeing from war zones are involuntarily separated from
their families. Until civilians in general are protected from
the impact of warfare, increasing numbers of children will
continue to be exposed to the additional trauma and danger
of separation. Member States are urged to adhere to and
promote the Convention on the Rights of the Child and to
support measures that will avoid involuntary family



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