Academic journal article Refuge

Hidden Children: Refugee Fostering in Guinea International Rescue Committee, Host Country Foster Care Project in Guinea

Academic journal article Refuge

Hidden Children: Refugee Fostering in Guinea International Rescue Committee, Host Country Foster Care Project in Guinea

Article excerpt

Abstract

One of the most vulnerable yet overlooked groups within situations of forced migration is that of refugee children who have been separated from their families as a result of armed conflict and subsequently absorbed by foster families in the countries to which they have fled. Based on extensive field-based research, this paper presents protection problems and poses solutions for such refugee children in Guinea, West Africa, including their access to rights such as family tracing; cultural and linguistic continuity; and education, health, and well-being. The paper also considers long-term integration options for refugee children living in Guinean foster families. The paper concludes by analyzing the use of a human rights framework to alleviate human suffering in this particular situation of forced migration.

1. Introduction

   During the rebel attack in Freetown [Sierra Leone], my mother was running
   with me and the rebels shot her in her head and she died. I didn't know
   where my father and brother were. Then, I saw people running and I followed
   them and we came to Guinea. When we came to Forecariah, I was suffering,
   begging people for food. When I saw this mother [current foster mother], I
   ... explained to her that I had nobody there to take care of me and I asked
   her to take me along and she accepted. --Mohamed Kamara, age 9, refugee
   from Sierra Leone (1)

One of the most vulnerable yet overlooked groups within situations of forced migration is that of refugee children who have been separated from their families as a result of armed conflict. (2) This is especially true for those children who are subsequently absorbed by foster families in the countries to which they have fled. Their human rights and the standards for their care are detailed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, as well as Refugee Children: Guidelines on Protection and Care, which is published by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). (3) But how do these established rights and standards actually improve the lives of these children?

The civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia have led to the exodus of more than five hundred thousand refugees to Guinea since 1989. As indicated by the story of Mohamed Kamara, armed attacks separate refugee children from their parents, leaving them vulnerable and alone in Guinea. Refugee families in and around refugee camps eventually take most of these "separated" children into informal foster care arrangements. Other separated refugee children are cared for by Guinean families or survive on their own in the streets of Guinean towns and villages. Some of these children are well taken care of by their foster parents, but others have been trafficked for domestic or manual labour, sexually exploited, or forcibly recruited into militia groups. (4) Few of these separated refugee children are actually orphans, and many have parents or family members who are looking for them. It is estimated that there are from ten thousand to twenty-five thousand separated refugee children in Guinea today. (5)

Around the world, separated refugee children who are absorbed into host-country foster families--such as Sierra Leonean children in Guinean families--face a distinctive set of short- and long-term protection problems. These problems have hitherto lacked adequate attention by the international community because such children are usually undocumented, not in refugee camps, and randomly dispersed throughout large areas. They are "hidden" in a sense and cannot benefit from the services of international organizations and governments.

Access to separated refugee children in host country foster families is also problematized by the personal and political sensitivities surrounding these fostering arrangements: sometimes host country foster families are reluctant to declare the presence of refugee children in their care, and governments may be hesitant to allow aid organizations to assist refugees who are outside of officially designated areas. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.