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Rwanda: ICRC conducting largest-ever operation for unaccompanied children

04-01-1995 News Release 1

The task is unspectacular but vital. Since the end of June last year the ICRC, in cooperation with UNICEF, UNHCR and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, has been registering tens of thousands of young children abandoned or lost while on the move in Rwanda and neighbouring countries. The ultimate aim of the operation, which is time-consuming and requires large numbers of staff, is to reunite the children with their families. " What we are doing in Rwanda " , said Coraline de Wurstemberger, deputy head of the Africa sector at the ICRC's Central Tracing Agency, " constitutes the biggest operation for unaccompanied minors in our history. "

With the help of other humanitarian organizations such as Save the Children UK, some 37,000 children have been registered to date. The ICRC estimates that there are over 13,000 unaccompanied Rwandan children in Zaire and almost 11,000 in Rwanda itself. There are others in camps in Tanzania, Burundi and Uganda. Most of the children concerned are between the ages of two and eight. " At that age " , remarked Ms de Wurstemberger, " a child is too big to be carried on its mother's back, so has to walk on its own. Being so much smaller and weaker than an adult, it is easily left behind, swallowed up by the huge crowds of fleeing people. "

By the end of November 1994, hundreds of children had already been reunited with their families. Although the ICRC was pleased to see that the process was gathering pace as the year drew to a close, the situation in the Great Lakes area remains precarious. " If the violence were to resume and people's movements were once again dictated by fear " , Ms de Wurstemberger continued, " children might take to the roads once again. If they left the camps, we would lose track of them and all our efforts over the last few months would have been in vain. "