For Refugee Children, "Home" is a Changing Concept

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More than 230,000 people fled Kosovo when Serbian forces left the province in June 1999. When the Kosovo residents returned, they faced daunting obstacles.

Kosovo winters are harsh. "For one three-week period, temperatures remained at -25 to -35 Celsius (-13 to -31 Fahrenheit). There were no houses, no heat, no electricity," Ghedini said. "People lived under heavy-duty plastic sheeting with perhaps one room winterized."

In addition, the land remained littered with mines.

"Not just mines left by local Yugoslavs," Ghedini said. "There were also a great deal of cluster bombs that had been dropped by air, scattered around the countryside."

Cluster bombs, depending on the country in which they were manufactured, are bright yellow, are round or oval, and look like toys, particularly to children who no longer have toys or sports equipment.

Survival in a Tent City

Many refugees fleeing violence spend years living in the tent cities of refugee camps, frequently moving from one to another in the face of yet more violence. Survival becomes the focus of their lives.

The current crisis in Africa illustrates the grave problems faced by refugees. Since fighting broke out in Sudan a year ago, more than 110,000 Sudanese refugees have fled across the border to Chad.

Living along the border in shelters constructed of branches and straw, the refugees contend with scorching days, freezing nights, blinding sandstorms, and extremely scarce water. Most crossed the border with little or no belongings. Cross-border raids remain a constant threat.

For these refugees, the majority of whom are women, children, and the elderly, it could be years before they are able to return home. The UNHCR is racing to establish inland camps farther from the border, to keep people safe.

One child Ghedini met in a camp in Burundi illustrates the challenges these children face. The girl's parents had been killed in a raid. Rebels left her and her grandmother alive to send a message to people in other villages and the camps of the horrors they could expect to face if they stayed.

When asked what she thought of the camp, the girl told Ghedini: "I don't know what to think about anything. Living here, I don't hear the gunfire, or the shelling, but I'm still scared; maybe I'll be scared like this for the rest of my life."

"Here's an 8-year-old who has survived more than most adults, and she's not griping, not complaining. That's all she knew: being scared about being able to go to sleep at night and not worry," Ghedini said.

In Colombia more than three million people have been forced from their homes by guerrillas and paramilitaries. The AjA Project (Autosuficiencia Juntada con Apoyo) teaches kids the basics of photography and provides an outlet for self-expression. One child, José William Claros Conde, a ten-year-old, described for the project organizers the photograph he took as follows:

"When we played, we played ball, or if not, my brother would chase cars and I would go to play with my friends … Sometimes I saw that my parents were sad because we couldn't go out to play because other kids had been kidnapped and taken by the guerillas and all that. That's why my parents got very sad."

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