Protect refugee children on the move, UNHCR chief urges

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A Syrian boy photographed at a refugee transit site in Arsal, Lebanon. Photo: UNHCR/M. Hofer

Refugee children must be protected, especially if they are unaccompanied or separated from their families, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi has urged.

A two-day forum opened in Geneva on Thursday aimed at finding solutions to the enormous risks these children face when they are on the move.

They make up more than half or 51 per cent of the 21.3 million refugees worldwide, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

Jocelyne Sambira reports.

Millions of girls and boys are among the unprecedented numbers of people being driven from their homes by conflict, global persecution and economic hardship. 

The fact that they have no protection, even from people travelling with them, exposes them to all kinds of situations, the UNHCR chief noted. 

They are exposed to criminal smugglers and traffickers and some of them end up in detention centres. 

Filippo Grandi has more. 

"One of the things that shocked me most was to see physically, materially, myself, the exploitation of children in European cities. I am not talking about you know very poor areas, conflict areas, in European cities, the exploitation of children on the move by unscrupulous people, sometimes may I say by "ordinary people" who take advantage. So this is an important issue. We cannot accept this. We need to fight back. We need to find ways to address this situation." 

The High Commissioner also underscored how exile or what he called "refugee-hood" is becoming very protracted with conflicts lasting so long; meaning that entire generations of children in some situations are missing out on opportunities. 

Mr Grandi also called for the end to the practice of detaining minors pending the determination of their refugee status, adding that it is against the best interest of any child. 

Jocelyne Sambira, United Nations. 

Duration: 1’23″

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