When fighting started after a coup in March last year, people fled the Central African Republic in order to find safety in neighbouring countries. Understandably, this has had a major impact on the lives of these people, as they have been forced to abandon their possessions and former lives. However, it is having a particularly profound effect on the children who have been forced from their homes by the violence that has engulfed the country.
Out of the 97,000 people who have fled into Chad, around 1,200 children have crossed the border without their parents or normal guardian. For these children, life is full of hardships and uncertainty. Whilst the authorities in Chad and elsewhere are working hard to ensure their safety, the problem will only grow as long as fighting continues to force families out of their homes.
Families torn apart
One of the main reasons for the large number of separated children was the speed with which the conflict developed. This left little time for a well-planned evacuation and meant that families have often ended up spread across the different countries that border the CAR. In cases like Abdel Karim's, a refugee from Bangui, the capital of the CAR, children may have even witnessed the deaths of their family, so have no hope of ever seeing them again.
As it stands, children who have crossed the border into Chad alone are looked after in a number of ways. Many live in communal tents, overseen by social workers or NGO staff, and 360 are living with host families in Chad. These children are receiving psychological and social support to help them cope, but a more long-term solution will be necessary if they are to fulfil their potential.
"I don't know if my father is alive or dead"
The trauma for those who have seen their friends and families murdered has a particularly profound emotional impact. However, not knowing whether parents are alive or dead can also be extremely stressful for the children involved. As Lamine tells IRIN news "I don't know if [my father] is alive or dead. If I knew that ... then I could at least move on." Reuniting families is, therefore, a major priority for NGOs and the government, who have so far been able to reunite 442 children with their families.
Many children are also worried about the disruption that has been caused to their education. Abdou Aziz Tarik, 17, tells IRIN that he is keen to get back to school so that he can make something of his life. Sadly, education is currently only provided up to primary school level, so those of Abdou's age are unable to continue their studies. Rebuilding families and getting children's lives back on track will be important for both the future of those involved and the CAR in general.
SOS Children is providing special support to children separated from their families. On the borders of CAR, Chad and Cameroon, we are providing care to unaccompanied children and doing all we can to reunite them with their parents. Find out more.