|ICRC Activities in Rwanda: 1993 - 6 April 2000 (International Committee of the Red Cross , 230 p.)|
INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS
UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSION FOR REFUGEES (UNHCR)
UNITED NATIONS FUND FOR CHILDREN (UNICEF)
For effective action in favour of unaccompanied children in Rwanda and neighbouring countries:
The existence of a large number of unaccompanied children was recognized early in the war as a particular feature of this conflict. The total of all children separated from their families may never be known: but there remain tens of thousands and parents continue to search for lost children. Unaccompanied children are to be found within Rwanda and wherever Rwandan populations dispersed - Tanzania, Zaire, Burundi, Uganda and smaller numbers in more distant countries.
The ICRC, UNHCR, UNICEF and the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies affirmed in a joint declaration dated 27 June 1994 the necessity to do everything possible to ensure the survival and protection of unaccompanied children: trace their families and facilitate family reunifications and have since then worked in collaboration to achieve this aim.
Numerous efforts are being undertaken by humanitarian organizations on behalf of the unaccompanied children:
- many initiatives are being taken to ensure that unaccompanied children are provided shelter: food and care;
- with the agreement of governments, international and non governmental organisations have worked in close collaboration to ensure that unaccompanied children are identified, registered, followed and photographed for tracing and family reunification. In addition, more extensive interviews with unaccompanied children have been undertaken by social workers to establish an in-depth documentation;
- one regional centralised database has been established by ICRC in order to manage the information on such a large case load. To protect children and make tracing possible: participating organisations inform the ICRC of registrations and any change in location of unaccompanied children;
- in addition to the centralised data base, several small data bases have been established to support local and country based programmes for unaccompanied children;
- tracing and family reunifications have been proceeding. Through independent efforts of families: special initiatives of childrens centres, the UNICEF family mediation and photo exhibit programmes in the Goma region and the programmes of ICRC, and UNHCR, over 16,000 unaccompanied children have been reunited with their families.
Mass registration, reestablishment of family contacts: tracing and family reunification have been made possible by innovative efforts of collaboration and coordination among the various organisations with the result:
- ICRC provides UNICEF and UNHCR with data on unaccompanied children. This information is then shared with other organisations.
- Many organisations have worked together. In particular in Rwanda, SCF (UK) has had an important role in organising the documentation of children: tracing and family reunions.
- UNICEF and ICRC have collaborated in the photographing of unaccompanied children both within and outside Rwanda. Tracing using photographs is being successfully implemented in the Goma region and is beginning within Rwanda.
- Humanitarian organisations dealing with children in centres have been encouraged to actively participate in the tracing process. Tracing by social workers has been particularly effective for reuniting children who were placed in the centres because the family lacked the food or means to support the child.
- A Red Cross Message network has been organised by the ICRC and has been crucial for reestablishing and maintaining contacts between family members separated by the conflict notably for unaccompanied children. Over one million messages have been collected and distributed.
- UNHCR and UNICEF have closed numerous unauthorised childrens centres in refugee camps to protect children and reunite families.
These efforts are considered to be positive and constructive, but they have to be increased as tens of thousands of children are still without contact with their families. There are however several limiting factors:
- Political obstacles continue to restrict cross border family reunions.
- Identification and collecting information from infants and young children is difficult.
- The follow-up of children in foster families can be problematic.
Using the experience gained, the signatories to this declaration agree on the following principles for the further development of effective action for unaccompanied children:
- The protection of the rights and well being of unaccompanied children and the protection of family members must be respected at all times.
- Reestablishing and maintaining contacts between families separated by the conflict and family reunifications must be accelerated.
- The current collaboration and cooperation between ICRC, UNHCR, UNICEF and all partners working with unaccompanied children will be strengthened.
- UNICEF, UNHCR and partner NGOs will continue to provide ICRC with information concerning the location: status and movement of unaccompanied children so that the centralised databank will be correct and useful.
- All organisations working with unaccompanied children will be encouraged to develop activities for tracing their parents.
- UNICEF, UNHCR and partner NGOs will continue to receive information on Rwandan unaccompanied children from the ICRC for use in active tracing and reunification programmes.
- UNHCR, UNICEF and ICRC will work in close collaboration to increase cross border family reunions.