Angelina Jolie on Her UN Refugee Role

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Tanzania is currently hosting 357,000 Burundian refugees, 80 percent of whom are women and children. More than 8,000 refugees have arrived from Burundi since January, many of them seriously malnourished. But a shortfall in funding has lead to cuts in food rations. Non-food items, like soap, blankets, and plastic sheeting to sleep under, fell by the wayside long ago. In addition, the Tanzanian government wants to force the refugees to return home, and so is doing its best to make living conditions at the camps intolerable by imposing curfews, restricting movement outside and between camps, and refusing travel permits even for medical emergencies.

Q: How are the children affected by life in the camps?

The trauma children face as a result of being uprooted from their homes, often very suddenly, is devastating, and affects the rest of their lives. The very young children still have dreams. But the young teens have very little hope. They are more realistic. There is nothing for them to do in the camps, and they seem defeated. It is very sad.

An estimated 20,000 children and 20,000 women have been displaced by the recent outbreak of fighting in the Ituri province of Eastern Congo. The UN is receiving reports of thousands of women and girls being brutally raped, mutilated, and killed. Many of the children reaching camps have seen their mothers, fathers, and siblings killed. Thousands of children, some younger than 10 years old, have been recruited by the various armed groups and forced to act as soldiers. The UN estimates that as many as a third of the 30,000 fighters in Congo are children. When funding gets tight, as it always is in Africa, the first item to be cut is trauma counseling for the children.

More Information on UNHCR:

UNHCR provides protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, refugees who have returned home but still need help in rebuilding their lives, local civilian communities which are directly affected by the movements of refugees and, perhaps most importantly, growing numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs). IDPs are people who have been forced to flee their homes, but have not crossed the border into another country. As the nature of war has changed in the last few decades, with more internal conflicts replacing interstate wars, the number of IDPs has increased significantly and they are now the second largest group of concern to UNHCR. The number of IDPs is estimated to be between 20-25 million worldwide, with major concentrations in Sudan, Angola, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bosnia-Herzegovina and countries of the former Soviet Union. UNHCR helps an estimated 5.3 million of these people.

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