By Ban Dhayi
RAS JDIR, Tunisia, 12 April 2011—For Suleiman (not his real name), 15, the recent conflict in Libya is just the latest in a series of misfortunes that have plagued his young life. Four years ago, war separated him from his parents in Somalia.
“My elder brother, Mohammed, was the last one from my family who remained,” he says. “In our desperate pursuit for safe haven, we had to move from one country to another before settling down in Libya in 2009.”
Last year, Mohammed drowned at sea, leaving young Suleiman alone except for the compassionate neighbour who offered him shelter and food. Then, when fighting broke out in Libya, he was obliged to move again. He came alone by bus to the Shousha refugee camp in southern Tunisia.
“I heard people around me saying it’s not safe anymore, we should move outside Libya,” he recalls.
“When Suleiman arrived in the camp, he was confused by the unfamiliar environment and unsure about what was going to happen next. My job is to ensure he feels safe and supported,” adds a UNICEF psychologist, Najat, who has become Suleiman’s closest friend.
Safe shelter and protection
The violence in Libya has been driving refugees into Tunisia since mid-February. With support from its partners, UNICEF has established an emergency response team in Ras Jdir to help women and children in refugee camps hosting nearly 10,000 people.
The team sees that families get counselling, unaccompanied young people such as Suleiman are registered, and children are protected from violence. When unaccompanied and separated children have been identified, UNICEF’s team of psychologists follow up so that they are provided with safe shelter and protection, as well as expedited reunification with family members.
“Of the millions of children displaced by armed conflicts around the world, unaccompanied children are at the greatest risk,” notes UNICEF Emergency Coordinator Dominic Stolarow. “They are the likeliest to lack the most basic means of survival and to have their rights violated, the likeliest to be killed, tortured, raped, robbed and recruited as child soldiers,.
Hope for the future
Although he has seen many troubles, Suleiman remains optimistic about the future. His confident manners, neat appearance and spectacles suggest a scholarly boy, but poor eyesight has prevented him from getting an education.
“I have always dreamt of going to school and growing up to specialize in information technology. I can barely see silhouettes in the light, and the doctor in Libya said I need expensive surgery, but I do hope to realize my dream one day,” he says.