Critical Issues

A.    Coordination:

Four community services officers have been deployed for Albania and Macedonia. One focal point from the protection staff in each country should be identified to liaise with the community services colleagues, with a view to ensuring coordinated activities on behalf of women and children, in conformity with agreed protection standards.

B.    Separated Minors -- Definitional Issues:

Issue:Children are not being identified as separated minors, either because they come with extended family members (with whom they were not previously living), or with neighbours and/or family friends.

Policy:"Separated children" are children under 18 years of age who are separated from both parents, or from their previouslegal/customary primary caregiver. Early identification of such children is important to facilitate family reunification.

Recommended ActionWhen registering families, ensure that separated minors are properly identified by asking heads of households whether the accompanying children are theirs or have been in their care for a significant period of time. Be clear in the questions being asked and register any separated children.

C.    Separated Minors --Interim Care:

Issue:  Separated children are being taken away from their ad hoc caregivers from their villages and are being placed with other local foster families. Discussions are taking place on the creation of institutions to care for such separated children, pending family reunification.

Policy:Placement with a family within the child's own community is preferable. If it is necessary to find homes for children, this should be with persons from the same areas of origin and intended areas of return in anticipation of voluntary repatriation. Institutional placements should be avoided, and the creation of orphanages should be discouraged.

Recommended Action:All staff should be aware of this policy and should ensure, as appropriate, that the local authorities and other national and international NGOs are similarly aware. Appropriate interventions to cease separations or pursue of placements in orphanages should be taken.

D.    Separated Minors -- Tracing:

Issue:A significant number of separated minors exist. According to reports from ICRC in Macedonia, some 200 separated minors were identified in a refugee site with some 2,500 refugees.

Policy:Identification and establishment of appropriate tracing mechanisms early in the emergency are of key importance.

Recommended Action:Ensure that all counterparts are giving appropriate priority to the principle of family unity. Close cooperation with ICRC on the ground is very important, as they are the mandated organization for tracing/family reunification of separated minors. Ensure that any identified separated minor is brought to the attention of ICRC and accordingly registered. If separation of children from their families in the regions of asylum is identified as a problem, consider a joint UNHCR/ICRC statement on the need to preserve family unity and work to ensure interim care in accordance with the above principles.

E.    Evacuations:

Issue:Families are being separated as a result of the evacuations.

Policy:The principle of family unity should always be respected and action which could lead to more longer term separation of already separated families should be avoided.

Recommended ActionEvery effort should be made so that the family unit remains intact and that the child is not separated from the family. Thus, any consideration of evacuation should be driven by action that enables evacuation of family units. Unaccompanied minors should not be evacuated. Regarding separated minors who are being cared for by neighbours who wish to be evacuated, special measures for the child would be of paramount importance. They should include:

- proper documentation/registration of the child, separate from that of the family;

-  assurances that ICRC has registered all necessary details on the child to enable tracing; including all available information as to evacuation destination;

-  contact should be made with ICRC/UNHCR in country of destination to ensure proper follow-up and continued lines of communication with the child for eventual family reunification.

F.    Birth Registration:

Issue:Birth registration may not be taking place for the refugee population.

Policy:Birth registration is essential to enable date and place of birth to be conclusively established, thereby activating certain rights, including those rights which are dependent upon nationality and personal status.

Recommended ActionEnsure that registration of new born babies is taking place. A national registration of refugee births is preferred. If this is difficult, a parallel mechanism for registration of refugee children should be established on a temporary basis. The system should record, at the minimum, the name of the child, date and place of birth, the child's sex, the names, nationalities and location (if possible) of both parents, as well as their respective places of birth. This should preferably be done by the local authorities, authenticating the registration. The record of the registration should be centrally kept, while the original birth document should be given to the parents.

G.    General Protection Issues relating to Women:

Issue:The protection needs of refugee women, including security, access to food, appropriate shelter, and health have been flagged as critical outstanding issues.  There are also reports of assaults against women, both during flight and in the country of asylum.

Policy:Participation of refugee women is a priority. Refugee women should be involved in decisions affecting their security, rights, needs and daily life.

Recommended Action:UNHCR and NGO staff should be alerted and sensitized to issues relating to sexual violence as they carry out their respective functions. Women's groups to identify and promote culturally appropriate responses to protection issues affecting refugee women should be encouraged and their creation facilitated.

H.    Equal Access to Food Distribution:

Issue:There is unequal access to food and other items for women, including female headed households.

PolicyEqual access to food and other distributed items is a key issue for protection of refugee women. Appropriate mechanisms, engaging women's participation at all levels, early in the emergency to ensure such access are of prime importance.

Recommended Action:Consult with refugee women regarding all decisions about food and other distribution to enable an appropriate distribution system to be set up. Liaise with WFP to ensure proper coordinated approach.

I.      Sanitary napkins:

Issue:Sanitary napkins have not been provided to refugee women.

Policy:Provision of such material is a necessity and is required to be budgeted for and provided to refugee women. Absence of these items prevents women and girls from carrying out essential daily tasks, can pose significant health risks, and may cause protection problems.

Recommended Action:Ensure that sanitary napkins are distributed to the refugee women.

J.    Trauma recovery 

Issue:There are refugees who are traumatised by the psychologically wounding experience of their refugee flight.

Policy:Community mobilisation is preferred over individual counselling at this stage of the emergency. Individual support may be considered at a later stage.

Recommended Action:Activities benefiting both children and adults, with special attention given to women, should be facilitated. For children, recreational activities and restoration of playfulness is an important intervention of trauma counselling. Recreational activities should therefore be established, which could include the emergency education material available to be purchased for emergency use.  As to response to possible incidents of sexual violence, strengthening a community-based support through community mobilization efforts should be prioritized. Medical services should be available and accessible.

K.    Adoption

IssueA number of people are approaching UNHCR for adoption of unaccompanied refugee children.

PolicyRefugee children during the emergency phase are not available for adoption. These children are not orphans, and tracing is to be given prioritization for eventual family reunification.

Recommended ActionUNHCR should disseminate the above policy to all concerned, and should ensure that adoption measures are not initiated.