At least 150 unaccompanied minors and children have been identified along the Tunisian-Libyan border since the early days of the Libyan crisis. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), along with other NGOs and local authorities, has been working aggressively to reunite these children with their parents.
They are mostly boys from 15 to 17 years old. The IOM says unaccompanied minors are among the most vulnerable migrant population in the area. They are at risk of abuse, exploitation and violence as they seek refuge in camps along the border.
At the Choucha camp they’re making progress in reuniting the minors with their families, according to Agnes Tillinac, spokesperson for IOM’S office in Ras Adjir, Tunisia.
“Among the 150, already 40 of them have been reunited with their families in their country of origin. The other ones are currently here in the camp, so around 100 children are separated from their family and are officially under the care of the Tunisian authorities,” said Tillinac.
She said the minors had been sent to Libya by their families to create income: “They come from countries of war and have been separated for some time from their families. They were running from conflict in Somalia, Eritrea. This is [also] the case for Sudan, Niger, Chad and the northern part of [Tunisia].”
Tillinac said it’s a long process, but authorities have been working closely with them.
“While crossing the border of Libya with no legal guardian, they (minors) are falling directly into the care of the Tunisian authorities, who have now become their legal guardians.” They are involved in the process of identification and are cooperating with U.N. agencies to help them get home,” said Tillinac.
It’s expected that in time almost all of the children will be reunited with their parents, which is already the case with minors from Senegal, Chad and Niger.
Tillinic said IOM is also providing assistance to the families after they have been reunited with their children because the children, once their main source of income, are no longer able to provide for them.