By Camara Abdulahi, with Agency Reports>>>
Refugee children from Sierra Leone within the boundaries of Guinea are statistically the most vulnerable children in the world, according to reports from UNHCR. These children have lived through horrific and extremely catastrophic war and many of them have suffered several unspeakable atrocities including mutilation, sexual abuse, torture and even witnessing the brutal killing of their parents or relatives.
These children after crossing the international border under unthinkable circumstances to seek refuge in Guinea, remain ever vulnerable to physical abuse, denial of education, sexual exploitation and violence, recruitment of child soldiers and militarisation of the camps.
Guinea, host to one of the largest refugee population in the world currently has more than 300,000 Sierra Leoneans, 65 percent of whom we understand to be children under the age of 18.
Unless ultimate peace, respect for human lives and security can be guaranteed by the warring factions, the refugee children are likely to remain at extremely great risk within the camps.
Children within the refugee camps in Guinea may face grievous or serious protection concerns at the hands of those appointed to look after them. They are most exposed to physical abuse, denial of food, labour exploitation, trafficking, sexual abuse and worse a denial of education. These numerous concerns are particularly acute for children who have become separated from their parents during the war commonly referred to as ‘unaccompanied’ minors. One of the several camps used is the Gueckedou refugee camp located in Southern Guinea.
Blank News sources revealed that a lot of the children at the Gueckedou refugee camp face an unsure future as the whereabouts of parents of a huge number of them remained unknown making many of the children susceptible to exploitation and child trafficking by scrupulous criminal gangs.
A number of vulnerable children here at the Gueckedou refugee camp are showing symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder and among the many near hopeless children at the local charity clinic here in Gueckedou, is an eight year old Sierra Leonean boy, Soute Paulo de Oliveira Utobivbi whose situation was lamentable due to chronic symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder he suffers from, termed by a doctor here as ‘traumatic grief’.
A care-giver at the camp disclosed that Soute Paulo de Oliveira Utobivbi, is the son of Hannah de Oliveira Utobivbi, a Portuguese national with a Sierra Leonean background, who until June 1998 was the President of the Kamakwie Women Empowerment Association but was shot dead at her residence after being raped, beaten, and both hands cut off in front of her children who were also beaten by rebel forces from the opposition believed to be RUF on September 19, 1998.
To help reduce the plight of these vulnerable children, the UNHCR has now established a network of refugee social workers. However, many of these children are yet to be registered which calls for huge concern. Many of the social workers employed are not fully trained to the international standard level and as a result are not able to identify first hand children that have suffered abuse or exploitation.
Of the 5 social workers interviewed at the Gueckedou refugee camp, none had received any copies of the UNHCR guidelines on refugee children and they all were unaware of the existence of these guidelines.