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Sudan: Congolese children take refuge in Southern Sudan

20-02-2009 Feature

Not so long ago civilians fled conflict in Southern Sudan, finding refuge in other countries. The shoe is on the other foot, as the region takes in refugees.

  © ICRC/A. Kilimo    
  Yambio, Southern Sudan. Dido Lafukpio Balie, a Congolese Red Cross volunteer and a refugee himself, registers children at the ICRC centre for unaccompanied minors.    
  © ICRC/A. Kilimo    
  Mealtime at the Yambio centre.    
  © ICRC/A.Vallet    
  ICRC centre, Yambio.Unaccompanied children enjoy a game of volleyball at their temporary home.    

" If only I could find someone to give me some news about my family! " says Kubako, a 17-year-old boy staying at the ICRC centre for unaccompanied children in Yambio with his two younger sisters. " Although we are fine here, I always worry about whether my parents and other brothers and sisters are alive. "

 A place to call home…if only for a while  

In October 2008, the ICRC opened a centre in Yambio, Southern Sudan, to care for children who fled their villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) following acts of extreme violence by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Now, children who fled from the DRC into Sudan, unaccompanied by their parents or relatives, no longer need to worry about shelter and food.

Many of the children simply followed other Congolese refugees into Yambio town and surrounding areas, where they were offered shelter immediately by local families. " A number of children as young as five years old are living with families who found them in the market or in town. The ICRC helps them by supporting the host families with food items”, said ICRC delegate, Daniel Corthesy. However, certain problems persist: " some children are required to make bricks, help with household chores or sell things in the market in exchange for a meal or very little money. "

Volunteers from the Sudanese Red Crescent Society’s branch in Yambio currently manage the centre. They provide the children with hot meals and first aid and register them so as to try and find their parents.

Dido Lafukpio Balie, a young volunteer from the Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and himself a refugee, has been helping out the Sudanese Red Crescent volunteers. They have registered 70 children so far. More than 40 of them, all boys except three, and aged between 10 and 18, are living in the centre now. Younger children are with host families in Yambio.


Through the centre the ICRC offers care to the children as a temporary measure. In the meantime it is seeking suitable alternatives that involve families taking in children from the centre.

 Children need to be with their families  

Children separated from adult family members, especially by armed conflict, are likely to be traumatized by the sequence of events, and are usually at a greater risk of abuse or exploitation. As part of its mandate, the ICRC tries to search for the parents or close family members of such children through its tracing services. Since some of the children are unable to give proper information owing to their young age, photographs are sometimes the only way to help parents or relatives identify a child. The search for the families is conducted in close collaboration with national Red Crescent or Red Cross Societies. In the case of Yambio, it is a joint effort of the ICRC, Sudanese Red Crescent Society and the Congolese Red Cross Society.

 Contact with loved ones  

Red Cross messages enable family members separated by conflict to exchange news and help reduce the psychological effects of separation. If need be the ICRC, with the support of the Sudanese Red Crescent Society and the Congolese Red Cross Society, will use the Red Cross message network to help the children restore contact with their families once they have been tracked down. The ICRC is hoping to be enable as many Congolese refugees in Yambio as possible to restore contact with their families back home.

" If we manage to find the children’s parents or close family members, they can at least exchange Red Cross messages with the children and know that they are all safe, " Anne Vallet, ICRC tracing coordinator in Sudan explained. " Our ultimate goal, however, is to reunite the children with their families as soon as the security situation allows. "