Twelve-year-old Anna* woke in the middle of the night to the deafening rattle of machine guns. Her village in South Sudan was under attack.

She remembers the confusion in the street outside, the darkness and thick smoke. She remembers the last glimpse she caught of her mother in the chaos. Then everyone started running and Anna ran with them.

When the sun came up, Anna found herself alone with no sign of her parents. She waited for them all day. Then numb with shock and confusion, she joined the thousands of people heading for the Ethiopian border.

I was terrified of wild animals and the fighting going on around us,” Anna says. Weak with fever and hunger, she was lucky to survive.

Ethiopia hosts the largest number of unaccompanied and separated children – over 43,000 – mostly from South Sudan. But this is now a global crisis. In just one year, more than 173,800 unaccompanied refugee children were reported worldwide.

 

Ethiopia hosts the largest number of unaccompanied and separated children – over 43,000 – mostly from South Sudan. © UNHCR / O. Cohen

Every hour, 20 children – the same number as an average Australian primary school class – are forced to flee alone. Having lost their parents to conflict or become separated from them, these children are extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

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Anna reached safety in Ethiopia and is now in UNHCR’s care, having been found by our protection teams in the Gambella region.

With your support, UNHCR ensures unaccompanied children have the necessities of life, can rebuild their lives through psychosocial support and helps reunite children with their loved ones through family tracing services.

Today, Anna has the basics of survival: child-safe accommodation, food, clean water, medical care and the counsel of a child protection officer to help her cope with her grief and trauma. UNHCR has facilitated her return to school, allowing her to resume her disrupted education and enjoy the company of other children.

 

But the growing crisis of unaccompanied and separated children has put enormous strain on child protection efforts and resources are increasingly scare.

Every day, vulnerable children are falling through the cracks. If we do not find them, they disappear and are easy targets for traffickers, early marriage and child labour. These children have seen things no child should ever see and experienced unimaginable suffering.

You can help give unaccompanied and separated children both practical and emotional support. As well as meeting their basic needs in terms of food and shelter, you can restore their sense of normality, help them get back to school and allow them to be children again.

*Name changed to protect privacy

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UNHCR’s child protection services are severely underfunded. Without help, even more vulnerable children will be left behind. © UNHCR / O. Cohen

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