Children forced to flee alone often experience unimaginable suffering and trauma. UNHCR’s Mmone Moletsane has seen firsthand the effects of war on unaccompanied and separated children. Working in refugee camps in Ethiopia, she helps provide life-saving care and support.

 

What is your role with UNHCR?

I am a Child Protection Officer for the camps and transit centres in Gambella which serve refugees from South Sudan. A big part of my role is to monitor and report on our child protection services in the camps, to find and address any gaps in those services and keep abreast of the emergency situation here in Gambella.

What is the situation for children in these camps?

Two thirds of the refugees in Gambella are children — and 28 per cent of them are unaccompanied or separated. The effects of war on these children can be overwhelming. They have lost the protection of their countries and communities and their sense of normalcy but they have amazing resilience and the desire to survive against all odds. With the right protection, care and support, there is hope for them.

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UNHCR Child Protection Officer Mmone Moletsane works in Gambella’s refugee camps where over two thirds are children. © UNHCR / O. Cohen

What do you find most rewarding?

The team effort that results in children being saved from the threats they face. We had a 15-year-old girl, an orphan, who was risking her life by coming forward and resisting a forced marriage. She was rescued the day before the suitor arrived: we relocated her and her four sisters to Addis Ababa where their cases were submitted for resettlement. When I can provide a solution for a child like that, I know that our work is making a difference.

Is forced marriage a common threat for unaccompanied girls?

Yes, we come across it a lot. We are yet to see the rule of law working to protect girl children against early marriage and other exploitation. Because of these dangers, we often relocate them to camps outside Gambella.

“I know that our work is making a difference.”

How did you become interested in humanitarian work?

I’m from Senekal, a small town in South Africa’s Eastern Free State province. I grew up being passionate about serving others — particularly those less privileged. I went on to study social work and, later, Forced Migration Studies. I’ve been with UNHCR since 2009, working with refugees in South Africa, Lebanon, South Sudan and Ethiopia.

“With the right protection, care and support, there is hope for them.” More help is urgently needed to ensure all unaccompanied children have the basic necessities of life. © UNHCR / O. Cohen

And what are the challenges of the job?

The needs are huge and there are limited resources. When a critical service isn’t being provided, it exposes already vulnerable children to even more risks.

UNHCR is working hard to ensure unaccompanied and separated children have food, shelter, safe accommodation, medical care and access to education. But as the crisis continues to grow, resources are increasingly scarce.  

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