UN calls on world leaders to help child refugees and migrants

18 May 2017

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Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia (AAP)

SBS World News Radio: More than 300,000 children have migrated around the world alone in the past two years, and many young refugees have been forced into slavery and prostitution.

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The UN's children's agency, UNICEF, says the global number of refugee and migrant children moving alone has hit a record high.

"There's no end of misery, ruthless smugglers, rampant sexual and physical abuse and forms of slavery and detention that we've not seen in many years. Our sense is this cannot go unchecked in this day and age, particularly in industrialised countries and amongst the wealthiest countries in the world," says UNICEF's coordinator for the refugee and migrant crisis, Afshan Khan.

UNICEF is calling on the countries where children have sought refuge to provide better services.

It says many languish in overcrowded shelters, end up in makeshift camps or are exposed to the dangers of life on the streets.

In Uganda, 2,000 refugees are arriving from war-torn South Sudan each day and almost 90 per cent are women and children.

At Imvepi camp in the north of the country, World Vision Australia is providing much needed aid on the ground.

World Vision's chief executive Tim Costello says more than 9,000 children have arrived in the camp without their parents.

"What really upset me was going to the child-friendly spaces of World Vision and hearing that we have now registered 9,000 unaccompanied and separated children. Children who don't know if their parents are alive or dead who are just told to follow the crowd coming from South Sudan here. These are the sights of raw suffering I'm seeing."

Mr Costello says almost two million people have had to flee the violence in South Sudan.

"Nearly two million people out of a population of 12 million in South Sudan have fled because of communal violence. One million are here just in Uganda. And that communal violence, sometimes called ethnic or tribal violence, is raping, looting, burning of houses. I spoke to a young women today in tears; she'd just heard how her parents had been killed and all her siblings, so totally alone. This simply breaks you open when you hear these stories."

UNICEF's report has found more than half of the unaccompanied children had sought asylum in Europe.

 

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