As Thousands Flee Fighting in Goma, Save the Children Warns that Children are at Risk of Recruitment to Armed Groups

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Thousands of children displaced by fighting in and around the city of Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) risk recruitment to armed groups, Save the Children has warned. File photo UNHCR/A. Bronee.
Thousands of children displaced by fighting in and around the city of Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) risk recruitment to armed groups, Save the Children has warned. File photo UNHCR/A. Bronee.

WESTPORT, Conn. (Nov. 26, 2012) - Thousands of children displaced by fighting in and around the city of Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) risk recruitment to armed groups, Save the Children has warned.

Thousands of people have fled Goma as rebels took over the city this past Tuesday. Save the Children staff on ground in the city report that children have been separated from their parents in the rush to escape the rebel advance, and could face recruitment from armed groups operating in the area.

"Any child separated in the rush to flee the fighting is at grave risk of being recruited by any one of several militias in the area," said Rob MacGillivray, Save the Children’s country director in the DRC. "We know that these groups have had few qualms about forcing children to join in the past and have no reason to suppose they will take a different approach now. The situation is extremely chaotic, with some families being displaced more than once, and we can only imagine how confused and frightened children caught up in this violence will be."

The aid agency is also deeply concerned that vulnerable families and children are unable to access healthcare and warns that food supplies are quickly running out. An estimated 400,000 people live in Goma, and the surrounding area is home to another 300,000 displaced people, according to the UN.

Tens of thousands of people have already fled the area, with children particularly vulnerable. "In any refugee crisis children face a range of risks, including separation from their families, abuse and exploitation, but the long-term insecurity in the eastern DRC means children are in a particularly dangerous situation," MacGillivray continued.

"They may be alone in an area where armed groups often recruit children, have witnessed terrible things, and without basic supplies like food and clean water. We call all sides to ensure that children are offered the protection they are owed and that they can be reunited with their families as soon as possible."

Save the Children is on the ground in Goma, but its humanitarian work has been suspended until the situation becomes safe enough to commence operations. In the meantime the aid agency is preparing to assist refugees and displaced families should there be movement from the DRC into Rwanda.

Save the Children is the leading independent organization for children in need, with programs in more than 120 countries, including the United States. We aim to inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats children, and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives by improving their health, education and economic opportunities. In times of acute crisis, we mobilize rapid assistance to help children recover from the effects of war, conflict and natural disasters. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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