Sierra Leonean refugee children have been neglected by the international community and face abuse in the camps where they should find protection, Human Rights Watch charged in a report Forgotten children of war: Sierra Leonean Refugee Children in Guinea.
More than 100,000 refugees still live in camps in Guinea which are dangerously close to the Sierra Leone border, where they have been killed, abducted, and mutilated in cross-border armed attacks, Human Rights Watch said. Donor countries have failed to contribute any of the U.S.$4 million appeal issued by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for relocating the camps.
The parties to the conflict in Sierra Leone signed a peace treaty in Lome, Togo earlier this month, but the refugees are unlikely to return until their safety can be guaranteed, said Rachael Reilly, Refugee Policy Director for Human Rights Watch.
"Until they can safely go back to Sierra Leone, these refugees must have the full protections they deserve," said Reilly. "Tens of thousands of children are living in unacceptable conditions right now in the camps."
Human Rights Watch identified a clear link between the lack of food security for the refugees and many of the human rights abuses documented in the report. Girls as young as twelve testified that they have no choice but to prostitute themselves with up to three men a day in order to feed themselves and, in some cases, their families.
"Not only have these children suffered some of the worst atrocities ever recorded in the world during the war in Sierra Leone, but they remain at risk in the refugee camps in Guinea - where they are supposed to find safety," said Reilly. "The world has taken on the challenge to protect refugees in Europe. African children deserve no less."
Human Rights Watch also found that some refugee camps are being used as military bases for Sierra Leonean government combatants and refugee children are being used as soldiers in the Sierra Leonean conflict. These children require special attention for the trauma suffered during the war.
"Calling on UNHCR and its donor governments to improve access to education and health care for refugee children in Guinea, Human Rights Watch also urged the international community to do more to protect refugee children around the world. Children account for more than half of all refugees worldwide.