Haiti earthquake: protecting unaccompanied children a priority
Protecting unaccompanied children and restoring links between them and their families is one of the ICRC’s top priorities in Haiti. Marc Studer is in charge of restoring family links in Port-au-Prince. He explains how the ICRC works in partnership with the Haitian Red Cross, UNICEF and local organizations.
“Earthquake victims have been starting to get organized over the last few days and we’ve picked up a number of cases of unaccompanied children, generally via the Haitian Red Cross. The children concerned have lost their parents or the people who were looking after them before the earthquake. Now they’re having to fend for themselves. In most cases, neighbours or other members of their communities are looking after them, and it’s they who contact the local branch of the Red Cross.
We first go round and talk to the children, and the people looking after them, to work out exactly what their situation is and to confirm that they really are on their own. In most cases, the people who have so generously taken these children in can’t even cover their own needs, so in the immediate short term they can’t feed and house them.
Safe, approved organizations
All the cases reported by the Red Cross follow basically that pattern. Working in close cooperation with UNICEF, the ICRC refers the children to UNICEF-approved institutions, which ensures that the places they go to are safe, can look after the children properly and can give them the security and food they need. One of the institutions we work with is the “Maison Arc-en-Ciel,” or “Rainbow House.” They have an excellent reputation in Port-au-Prince and there’s a nurse and a paediatrician on hand.
We take unaccompanied children to one of these centres and then get in touch with members of their families. The day a child arrives at an institution, we give them the opportunity to call a relative by satellite phone. In all the cases we’ve dealt with so far, the relative was living abroad – in the United States, France, or French Guiana – but we’re also expecting to receive children with family in Haiti who could look after them.
After we’ve taken a child to a centre, we pass on details of where they’re staying to their relatives, via the Red Cross of the country they’re in. This allows them to keep in touch. Again with the help of the national Red Cross societies, we then launch the procedure for reuniting the family, keeping the authorities of Haiti and of the host country fully informed. So far, we’ve handled the cases of six children, and just today we’ve taken on another seven. Given the current situation, this is an important task and it will continue to be one of our top priorities over the coming days and weeks.”
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For further information, please contact:
Jean Jacob Charles, ICRC Port-au-Prince, mobile: +509 34 58 41 86, satellite: +88 165 146 6175