A refugee is a person who has been forced to flee his or her own country because of persecution, war or violence. The fear that makes them move stems from several aspects. It could be race, religion, political inclination, nationality, a particular view or membership in a certain social group. The main reason is always war, caused by ethnic or tribal violence.
Refugees include men, women and children and they are often faced with a lot of difficulties. The women and children are prone to find it harder to survive as compared to men. However, in this essay, we are going to look at the conditions the children find themselves in at the various refugee camps where they are settled in after fleeing from their respective countries. Refugee children are frequently exposed prolonged and multiple traumas that remains logged at their memories even for life unless exhaustive counseling is given to them.
It is a common occurrence for refugee children to encounter the violent death of one or both parents. The massacre of close friends and relatives is another gross encounter they are often forced to bear. Separation and displacement from their families leads them into extreme poverty, starvation and physical injuries and this is always just the beginning of even more problems to come. This is because, this are the problems encountered during the war and by the escape experience to the refugee camps. Apart from this, they may be involved in direct combat with their enemies, at this time, they may be kidnapped, arrested, tortured, sexually abused or forced to engage in other gruesome practices. The danger of being harmed by mine explosions is also imminent; this could be seen in the 1990’s Rwanda Genocide that left very many children crippled as a result of the planted landmines.
According to Yoldi (1998), children are often forced to join the army and became child soldiers, during this time, they are given dangerous tasks like mine detection, spying and also handling of the various dangerous weapons. There is the high risk of facing severe injury or even death during these activities.
Many male supporters of the family are killed or severely injured during the war. Consequently, many refugee families are without the head of the family and this may force the refugee children, especially the boys to lose their childhood prematurely and take over the responsibilities of their fathers. They became the protectors of their younger siblings, and are also the ones to fend for food and shelter for the remaining family. This happens during the war, on their escape journey and even in the asylum country where most of the time life is never any easier. The children are suddenly faced with the hard task they are barely braced for as most of the time they are not even out of their teens. Pictures have been seen of thirteen year olds being the main leaders of a family and caring of their younger siblings. Ideally, these are children who should be under the care of someone and not themselves taking care of other people, but, the circumstances force them to be parents at such a tender age.
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According to Gitterman and Heller (2011), refugee children do not only suffer from traumatic experiences but their physical health is also at risk. At the refugee camps in the asylum countries, they suffer in the overcrowded living situations with poor nutrition and hygiene. The lack of clean water and access to primary health care is also a health issue. Besides this, there are always many health hazards along the way as they travel to the refugee camps. This are barely treated properly and often develop into serious wounds. Sometimes the refugees are forced to survive on one meal a day, and this is actually on a lucky day when they have found something to eat. The children, who should observe a proper diet so as to grow healthy and avoid the communicable diseases are the worst affected by the lack of food.
As a result, mortality rate of refugee children under the age of five is extremely high. For example, since 1995, the mortality rate of Afghanistan refugees less than two years was 165 per thousand births and 257 per thousand births for two to five year old children (Siddiqi,1997). Mothers too could not breastfeed their children adequately as they too lacked the milk due to the limited food supply. This high mortality rate is not only caused by the aspect of the poor diet issue, but also on the harsh conditions at the refugee camps. Refugees are always housed in tents, most of them are always old and worn out and give in to harsh weather conditions. These include strong wind and rain and the people in them are as good as staying outside. The children again are the worst affected as they need all the tender care and warmth and can hardly survive the bad conditions as compared to adults. They end up contracting malaria and pneumonia that are fatal. There have even been cases where the tents in the refugee camps have been swept by floods and people who were in them getting severely injured.
Education is the other issue that refugee children have to grapple with. Every child has a right to education but this is often disrupted for the refugees. Their schools are often destroyed and sometimes even burned down during the war. Teachers are persecuted and forced to escape. In a camp situation, due to the limited resources available, opportunity for an adequate education is very low. In one Pakistan camp for Afghan refugees, there was only one school for the 15000 refugee children. This cannot guarantee any comfortable studying in the children that go to that school. Besides that, girls were not allowed to attend and there were no tables or chairs and the children had to sit down so that they could study. Apart from that, the parents in the refugee camps are preoccupied with other issues to ensure basic survival and education of their children is one of the least likely factors to be on their minds. Even if the children strive to ignore the harsh conditions in the so called schools, they may not get the support needed for them to fully concentrate on their studies. The new education system may also be hard adapt.
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Settlement difficulties in countries of permanent asylum could also be difficult. Refugee children may face the language challenge and also the idea of adapting to a totally new culture may be difficult (Ferguson, 2006). Consider a situation whereby a traditional Middle Eastern family has to adjust to Western culture. This can be a challenging task as the two are totally different ways of life. The children may be the most affected as they interact with other children who may not understand the situation in which they are in and even laugh at them offering no support whatsoever. To make it worse, the country of asylum may be embracing a different king of religion from the refugees and especially for the children it may be a task explaining to them the difference. They may have grown knowing that theirs is the only religion and this may be a shock to them.
These are the problems that face children in the refugee camps. There may also be the great insecurity of being attacked by their country of origins residence in their settlement areas. The community where they are settled in may also be hostile and children may think that everyone is friendly may be affected by this. The girls may be at a risk of sexual assault due to the insecurity issue in the camps (Kinnear, 2007). They may also decide to engage in prostitution to help in the providing of their family’s needs. The men in the new countries may not mind doing this in exchange for support to their families. By doing this, they may find themselves with more problems of unwanted pregnancies and even sexually transmitted infections including HIV/Aids. The notion that life has become meaningless may also drive them into the moral decay. They may end up getting into trouble with the authorities of the new country as they may not be conversant with the rules and regulations of the new country. Running into the law is bad as the refugees are sometimes mistreated with them having no idea of their rights and lack of knowledge on the correct channels of legal procedure. The condition of the children in the refugee camps should be discussed and analyzed and some suitable way on how to help them to be adopted.
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First of all, proper recording of the details of the children in an asylum country should be taken. This should be especially the case for those who are unaccompanied by any adult. There have been situations where their ages are not gotten correctly in the records and this hampers their struggle of finding a job. This only comes to their attention when visited by a social worker. The records should be well verified.
According to Haines, 1997, there is also the aspect of being taken to schools. There are cases where refugees are taken to new schools within 24 hours of their arrival. This is not logical because they may not be able to adapt that fast. Considering all the traumatizing situations they may have gone through to get to where they may be. They should be accorded some considerable time to try and adapt to the new culture and even learn their language if not the same before being enrolled in schools.
Traumatizing situations were encountered and if necessary, some counseling sessions should be planned. Consider a young child, who witnessed his parent being killed, was raped or was forced to kill someone. For such a child to continue growing normally, they have to be counseled. The change of lifestyle too may be so hard to bear and to come to terms with the new developments there should be an intense therapy session to ensure this.
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Medical attention is the other factor that needs to be addressed. A study of newly arrived refugee children in New York showed that 30% had conditions that required further medical attention. There were cases of anemia, hepatitis B, tuberculosis and lack of iron deficiency. The authorities in charge of the various camps should ensure that there is a constant supply of medical to take care of the health needs of the refugees. Immunization programs for the children should be availed to ensure that they do not suffer from diseases that could be avoided with the administration of immunization.
Food aids that are always supplied to the refugees are a good gesture but the nutritional value should be put into consideration. The food donations are sometimes limiting, you find a situation whereby the refugees depend entirely on the food being donated to them and in this case the only thing being given is maize meal. This is a situation common in Africa where the refugees are only supplied with maize meal. This is of no much nutritional value as they lack what to prepare it with. The refugees are left with the little option of preparing porridge which is of no much nutritional value. The conditions too under which these meals are prepared is wanting. Since most refugees do not have household equipment, they may end up cooking in tins that are not convenient. Maybe a policy should come up where the food is prepared and then handed to them when it is already cooked. In this case, the problem of hygiene will be handled and there will be a reduction in the cases if illnesses occurring due to poor hygiene.
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Policies on the kind of involvement that the locals can have with the refugees should be formulated (Kibreab, 1987) There have been cases where the locals take advantage of the desperate situation in which the refugees are in and exploit them with the futile promises of helping them. Especially the teenagers have found themselves in trouble with the law as a result of empty promises. Most are lured into drug peddling and other moral decadent behaviors; this is all because of the need to fend for the basic commodities which are hard to come by. This is the other issue, lack of the basic needs like soap should be looked into and maybe provisions on how they can be provided to the refugees.
It was reported in Israel that refugee children are being held in prison together with adult men. The conditions in the prisons were bad with no proper ventilation. Other than that, the minors were mistreated by the older people who took advantage of their weakness and even ate their food. These were mostly the orphans who were unaccompanied. Such kinds of actions led to the formation of a group the Gaza orphans and refugees to help the children, the group raise funds to help children with needs. More of such groups would be very helpful in combating the plight of refugees.
Organizations such as the UNHCR, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have been trying to make the life the life of refugees better but they need support from other organizations and NGO’s to ensure that they are being helped better. Individual countries too should strive to ensure that they have policies regarding the treatment of refugees. The policies should be all round and focus on the need for medical attention, food, nutrition, law and general treatment of the refugees, especially the children.
Refugees have witnessed very gruesome scenes and most of them are very much traumatized. Utmost care should be taken to ensure that they completely heal and move on with their lives like other citizens.
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