Project Reports

Unaccompanied Minors: A Childhood Interrupted

By Ogonna Kanu

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) defines a child as every human being below the age of 18 years. Since children belong in families and are to be cared for till they attain a certain age, parents or guardians will naturally make decisions that consider the wellbeing of the child.

When families decide to relocate from one place to another, the expectation is that parents move with their children; and that minors will not make decisions to migrate or undertake such journeys alone. Contrary to this assumption, there are now more children than ever before who flee or find themselves without adults to chaperone them. These children can be categorized as either unaccompanied minors or separated children. Unaccompanied children are those who are without both parents, not being cared for by relatives or adults, who by law or custom, are responsible for doing so. Separated children are those who have been separated from both parents or from previous legal or customary primary caregiver but not necessarily from other relatives.

There are different reasons why children migrate alone. They could be fleeing persecution or victims of natural disasters, displacement, conflict, gang violence or conscription into rebel armies. Sometimes, it is the flight process that separates children from parents or older relatives. Losing the protection of their families or relatives in such a turmoil makes their story even more pathetic because it is at such times that they need their families the most. There have been instances where parents have made the grim decision to send their children alone with the hope of ensuring their survival. In other instances, the parents have gone on ahead and regularized their stay in other countries by seeking asylum before making arrangements – sometimes very risky arrangements, for the children to join them through the ‘unaccompanied minors’ route.

Discussions on the rights and protection of unaccompanied or separated children (UASC) have become necessary because of the increase in their numbers. There are 35 million children below the age of 18 who are refugees. Thousands amongst these children arrive in a country either on their own or with relatives who are not their parents. A UNHCR report estimates that there are presently 153,300 unaccompanied minors and separated children in the world. 

It is nearly impossible for a child to face the world alone and remain the same. The interruption of childhood compels them to assume adult responsibilities. Older children become caregivers, protectors and providers to their younger siblings. Oftentimes they do the unimaginable to survive; and are more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Journeying alone in itself is deemed to be physically and psychologically tiring and exposes them to physical violence, rape, manipulation and human trafficking. Girls are at a greater risk of sexual and gender based violence. Police or immigration officials who should protect these children may take advantage of them. Access to adequate medical services; education; official or proper identification, documentation and registration of their refugee status is not guaranteed.

There is not much consideration given to their needs as children. Some are housed in detention facilities in inhumane conditions with adults they do not know. Children in such facilities suffer physical, emotional and psychological trauma, particularly if they stay there for a long time. There are situations where the children are unable to seek asylum or denied asylum and have been returned to the countries they took flight from. Their asylum requests may also not be handled in an age-appropriate or gender sensitive manner.

In recent times, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled on the unlawfulness of the widespread detention of migrant children in EU states. Human rights organizations have also been quick to point out that under international law, children should not be detained. UNICEF and UNHCR insist that a best interest analysis (BIA) takes place before a decision to detain a child. It should identify the actions to be taken in the child’s best interest. Detention may only be given careful thought if the child can be placed where their physical and mental needs are addressed and their age and gender are given optimal consideration. UNHCR also advocates child-appropriate alternatives to detention such as connecting children with relatives in the country of asylum, making use of foster care systems or residential quarters. Pilot initiatives, such as Greece’s supervised independent living, Italy’s guardianship programme and Germany’s protection co-ordinators initiative are being pushed as projects that have not only benefited from the direct input of children but have made a positive impact in the fight  to improve the lot of migrant  children. 

The issues faced by unaccompanied children have prompted people everywhere to speak out. People are making an effort to learn more about migration issues and are speaking against governments and policies that add more trauma to the lives of these children. Educating others and encouraging them to lend their own voices to this cause; and joining local NGOs to donate time, money or skills has proved effective in creating more awareness and providing some succor to the children.

Hopefully, with increased effort to tackle this catastrophe, the conditions unaccompanied minors and separated children find themselves presently will very soon be a thing of the past.

Jasmine Project

6.6 million people have had to flee from the civil war in Syria— nearly half of them being women and children. They have faced dramatic changes in every part of their lives, particularly involving their roles in their community.

For women, life as a refugee has meant becoming the primary breadwinner and caretaker, fending for themselves and their families, away from their communities and traditional sources of support. The majority of Syrian women in Jordan are skilled in handicrafts, clothes, school uniforms, soaps, and cosmetic creation and recycling.

Fatima* sought refuge in Jordan with her family in 2020. She tried looking for job opportunities, but unfortunately could not join the market due to government restrictions.

UMR has sensitized its network with the private sectors, youth, and social entrepreneurs to come together to creatively contribute to solving social and economic challenges among young women in Jordan.UMR’s Jasmine Project is a way to empower women economically through skills development and entrepreneurship training. UMR’s goal is to teach women how to turn their abilities into marketable skills that will allow them not just to survive, but to prosper. Fatima joined UMR’s Jasmine Project and is now the breadwinner of her family. With a monthly income that allows her to comfortably support her family, she is the team leader of the project, helping inspire other women just like her.

Direct Impact: 225 women will directly benefit from the Jasmine Project, aged 18-50; 80% of them are Syrians, and 20% are Jordanians from Amman.

Indirect Impact: 1,125 family members of this project will benefit indirectly and another 10,000 customers– including business and the private sector who will purchase Jasmine products– will also reap benefits.

Jasmine’s goal for the future is to build the capacity of its participants and accredit its courses. UMR also plans to teach them practical entrepreneurial skills to develop a website, teach e-marketing, and visit some international exhibitions to promote Jasmine’s activities as a women-led company.

Jasmine’s trainings are not limited to community women but also targets the youth in universities and schools during summer break to teach professional crafts and handicrafts.

Ambulatory Clinics (Rohingya)

UMR works with its partner IMANA to provide ambulatory medical care to Rohingya refugees seeking safety in Cox’s Bazar-currently the largest refugee camp in the world. We are one of the very few medical teams authorized by the Bangladeshi government, which allows us to treat young children who would otherwise suffer from easily preventable diseases such as the flu which are lethal in camp settings. We coordinate with Bangladeshi NGOs for medical staff and logistics support to gain access to the internal parts of the camp. This project is coordinated in conjunction with UN health cluster meetings and volunteers physicians contracted through IMANA.

This project has been running since 2017 and has served hundreds of thousands of Rohingya.

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh is home to more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees who were forced to flee their home due to a violent government crackdown in Myanmar in 2017. This area is more densely populated than some of the largest cities in the world, and the majority of the refugees living there lack access to healthcare, proper sanitation, and decent living conditions. With the onset of COVID-19, experts are predicting that:

This pandemic could set Bangladesh back by decades.

Families live with up to 10 people in one room in sweltering heat, making social distancing impossible. With numbers upward of 19,000 confirmed cases of the virus in Bangladesh, it is only a matter of time before it spreads throughout the entire camp.

“On top of overcrowding, many refugees, who fled persecution in Myanmar, have underlying health conditions or have not received standard immunizations,” putting them at an even higher risk for contracting COVID-19.

Bangladesh Water Wells

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with more than 1000 people per square kilometer.

Three quarters of the population live in rural areas, where running water and sanitary latrines are often considered luxury items. As Bangladesh experiences one of the fastest urbanization rates in Asia, most of the 7 million people living in urban slums – the population of which is rapidly increasing – have no access to safe water sanitary latrines, proper waste disposal systems and adequate sewer drainage.

Lack of access to water supply infrastructure such as tube wells and piping are a major issue for the rural poor and urban slum dwellers who often resort to using unprotected surface water for drinking and cooking.

Further, according to the World Bank’s Agglomeration Index, an alternative measure of urban concentration, Bangladesh has considerable hidden urbanization4 that is not captured on official definitions and statistics. An undercounted rural-but-urbanizing dense population as such poses significant risk of epidemic outbreaks with poor WASH coverage and community awareness.

UMR’s funded project has delivered 112 deep tube wells, semi-deep tube wells, and shallow tube wells to 4,304 rural and urbanizing beneficiaries, and conducted beneficiary sensitization trainings on water safety, benefits of safe water, personal/environmental hygiene and maintenance of wells.
Below are most common examples of beneficiary feedback, indicative of general living conditions of the recipient population:

1. Traveling long distance for water, and spread of water-borne disease:

[S.J.] (Aged 52) is marginal farmer. His family consist of 6 members: “We collected safe water from far distance. He said, “We could not install tube well due to lack of money. Most of the people of this area have been suffering from water borne diseases for a long time. People of this area are very poor. […] After field survey Muslim Aid installed a new shallow tube-well. Now we are getting safe water for drinking and domestic uses.” 5

2. Use of unprotected unimproved surface water, and spread of water-borne disease:

[A.S.] (aged 38) is a Rickshaw Puller. His family consist of 7 members. He said “We could not install tube well due to lack of money. We used pond water. Most of the people of this area have been suffering from water borne diseases for a long time. We were collecting water from far distance. People of this area are very poor. After field visit Muslim Aid installed a new shallow tube-well. Now we are getting pure water for drinking and domestic uses.” 6

3. Water available only at neighboring village, and spread of water-borne disease:

[M. A. H.] (age-55) is a poor mer. He said, “We had no tube well before this tube well installed. People of this area are very poor. We were collecting drinking water from neighboring village. Most of the people of this area have been suffering from water borne diseases for a long time. We could not install tube well due to shortage of fund. After field survey Muslim Aid installed a new shallow tube-well, so, we are very happy. Now we are getting fresh water for drinking and domestic uses.” 7

UNICEF (2012) Bangladesh SHEWA-B Factsheet.
https://www.unicef.org/bangladesh/SHEWAB_factsheet_-_FINAL-21April12.pdf
UNICEF (2012) Bangladesh SHEWA-B Factsheet.
https://www.unicef.org/bangladesh/SHEWAB_factsheet_-_FINAL-21April12.pdf
UNICEF (2012) Bangladesh SHEWA-B Factsheet.
https://www.unicef.org/bangladesh/SHEWAB_factsheet_-_FINAL-21April12.pdf
World Bank (2015) Bangladesh Country Brief. http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/bangladesh/brief/leveraging-urbanization-bangladesh
Recorded by Muhammad Kotha Wala 7846 – July 2015. Address of the beneficiary: Upazila: Bagharpara, District: Jessore.
Recorded by Hadia Hamuri 7296 – July 2015. Address of the beneficiary: Upazila: Bagharpara, District: Jessore.
Recorded by Abul Azad 9029 – July 2015. Address of the beneficiary: Upazila: Jessore Sadar, District: Jessore.

The Plight of Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh, Cox’s Bazar

As of 31 July 2019, UNHCR records that over 742,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to refugee camp sites in Bangladesh since 25 August 2017.

  • Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh is currently the largest refugee camp in the world.
  • Rohingya Refugees are in need of international protection and humanitarian assistance.

Who are the Rohingya Refugees?

UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the Rohingya as, “one of, if not the, most discriminated people in the world.”

Rohingya Muslims are one of the many ethnic minorities in Myanmar. However, in 2017, there was an extreme government crackdown and Rohingya Muslims were forced to leave Myanmar to protect themselves from violence. The vast majority fled to Bangladesh, where they now live in tightly packed refugee camps. 

Rohingya Refugee Emergency at a Glance

As the emergency and current pandemic extend in duration, Rohingya refugees are overstretching already-limited services and scarce resources. According to the UNHCR;

  • Population – approximately 671,000 Refugees settled in Cox’s Bazar district since 2017
  • Shelter – More than 50,000 shelters have been structured using materials including bamboo, rope, and tarpaulins. 75% of families share households/shelters
  • Congestion – 93% of refugees live below UNHCR’s emergency standard of 45 square meters per person
  • Natural Disaster Risks – Tropical monsoon climate weathers Cox’s Bazar. The area is prone to natural disasters seasonally as climates change between dry season from November to March and rainy seasons from April to October (72% of the yearly rainfall between June and September).  Cox’s Bazar is also exposed to cyclones.
  • Landslides – over 23,000 people are at risk of serious landslides
  • Floods – over 400 hectares of flood-prone areas in Bangladesh; floods affecting nearly 80,000 people
  • Public Health Services – there are 149 clinics and 20 vaccination centers in Bangladesh Rohingya Refugee sites.  Morbidity and diseases are increasing as pandemic escalates; high level of respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases: notably cholera, hepatitis E and measles.
  • Nutrition & Food Security – acute malnutrition and anemia sufferance is prevalent among children 6-59 months, exceeding the emergency threshold.
  • Water & Sanitation – Longer-term and sustainable sanitation solutions are needed; there are 7,275 hand pumps in the refugee camp sites
    • 80% functional hand pumps
    • 99% of refugee populations live within 200 meters of the functioning hand pumps
    • 3,275 of the hand pumps are in landslide or flood prone refugee camp sites
    • 42% of water samples were contaminated with Escherichia coli (Dec 2017).

UMR Interventions

UMR, in coordination with partners, works to provide ambulatory medical care to Rohingya refugees seeking safety in Cox’s Bazar. We are one of the very few medical teams authorized by the Bangladeshi government, which allows us to treat young children who would otherwise suffer from easily preventable diseases, such as the flu, which are lethal in camp settings. We coordinate with Bangladeshi NGOs for medical staff and logistics support to gain access to the internal parts of the camp. This project is coordinated in conjunction with UN health cluster meetings and volunteers physicians contracted through IMANA.

This project has been running since 2017 and has served hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Refugees.

With the onset of COVID-19, experts are predicting that:

This pandemic could set Bangladesh back by decades.

Families live with up to 10 people in one room in sweltering heat, making social distancing impossible. 

With numbers upward of 19,000 confirmed cases of the virus in Bangladesh, it is only a matter of time before it spreads throughout the entire camp. 

Click to Read More:

[1] UNHCR – Rohingya Emergency 2020

[2] UNHCR  – Rohingya Refugee Emergency at a Glance

[3] HRW – “Bangladesh is Not My Country” – 2018

UMR Institute

UMR Institute: Operates domestically and internationally as an institutional context for capacity building for organizations and local communities and serve as a nonprofit incubator that forms young leaders in the Nonprofit sector, charity, voluntarism, philanthropy, and social entrepreneurship champions. In this context, UMR Institute will collaborate with its partners for external resources and training materials. Furthermore, UMR Institute will serve as a think tank for UMR by providing research and evidence-based rationale for UMR work by exploring the community needs and social investment potential and providing the feasibility and funding potential when needed, and also through being a monitoring and evaluation platform that tracks and measures the impact of UMR projects worldwide and provide post-implementation assessments and recommendations. The Institute will also help align UMR’s work with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

 

Syrian Refugee Medical Missions (Jordan)

Working with our field office in Jordan we have sent a number of medical shipments to assist Syrian refugees. As well as sending medicine to tackle chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, we supply essential medical supplies including syringes, aluminum canes, crutches, hip arthroscopy kits, oxygen masks and surgical packs.

In coordination with our partners, UMR also conducts cataract surgeries in Jordan. Each mission involves highly qualified and experienced doctors from the US who worked with their counterparts at Shami Eye Center, Amman and conduct surgeries.The Save Syria Medical Mission, implemented in conjunction with IMANA, is an ongoing project that brings volunteer doctors to provide low-cost primary and acute care to refugees of all nationalities that reside in Jordan.Services are provided in the Zarqa and Mafraq governates of Jordan. In 2018, UMR and IMANA provided health consultancies and primary health services to 6,500 patients primarily from Syrian and Palestinian refugee backgrounds.

East Africa Emergency Appeal

In Somalia, poverty, armed conflict, political instability and natural disasters continue to drive humanitarian needs. Diminishing water sources caused livestock to perish and crops to wither and die, further deteriorating cases of malnutrition, dehydration and starvation. The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance reached 5 million, which is more than 40% of the entire population. Over 1.1 million people are internally displaced, and Somalia remains one of the poorest and most food-deprived nations in the world.

UMR launched a project to provide immediate assistance to drought-affected IDPs and host communities in and around Mogadishu and Luug District, Gedu region. The scheme enabled people to access food as they waited for additional humanitarian interventions. The project helped feed 3,000 beneficiaries. UMR used World Food Program’s (WFP) support to improve food security through the SCOPE approach. This project targeted the most vulnerable IDPs passing through or staying in the region. It also registered beneficiaries from the IDP camp as well vulnerable households. The targeted beneficiaries received family/household rations equivalent to the ones delivered by WFP and recommended by the Somalia Food Security Cluster. The quota included 25kgs of rice, 25kgs of sugar, 5 liters of cooking oil, 2kgs of tea leaves and 5kgs of powdered milk.

Gaza Emergency Appeal

Update: December 19, 2019

Update: November 15, 2019

Renewed fighting in the Gaza strip has left 34 Palestinians dead and over 111 reported injured, many of whom are women and children (1). As the emergency situation in Gaza continues unfolds, UMR is monitoring the developments and responding to the crisis.

Since fighting began on November 12, the newly enacted ceasefire has been strained as attacks and airstrikes continue. In response, UMR has sent emergency food packs and medical kits at the request of the Palestine Ministry of Health (MoH) in an effort to ease the strain on the humanitarian crisis.

[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-50430783

 

Update: October 13, 2019

INTERAGENCY EMERGENCY HEALTH KITS

Upon the urgent request of the Palestine Ministry of Health, UMR will be sending 5 Interagency Emergency Health Kits (IEHK) to Gaza. These units consist of two different sets of medicines and medical devices: a Basic Unit and a Supplementary Unit. Each of these units contains sufficient materials to temporary equip medical facilities for 10,000 people for 3 months. Each kit has an expiration date of 2 years. All units are packed and shipped in sturdy boxes so upon arrival in Palestine, the contents arrive in perfect condition and are ready to use.

The complete IEHK can help equip several field hospitals or doctors’ posts with medicines, medical disposables and medical equipment. This ensures that medical relief is readily available in the first months after a major disaster.

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