Ethiopia: Facing challenges to protect unaccompanied refugee children

04 May 2021

JRS Ethiopia
The JRS Child Protection Centre (CPC) is unique to Addis Ababa, delivering a comprehensive child protection service for urban refugee children. (Jesuit Refugee Service)

JRS’s Child Protection Centre (CPC) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia plays a key role in the protection of unaccompanied, separated, and other vulnerable refugee children in Ethiopia’s capital.

“I was living with a family that was very bad to me. They hit me and would not let me go to school. JRS helped me move in with a better family, and I’m now attending English classes at the Child Protection Centre,” explains one of the girls attending the CPC.

According to comprehensive registration data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are more than 1300 unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia who are in desperate need of protection and durable solutions. Most of these children are Eritreans who were separated from their parents and/or families, while fleeing the recent outbreak of war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region where they were once settled.

The number of unaccompanied, Eritrean children arriving in Addis Ababa, in search of their families, is believed to be increasing. With no resources, many of these children end up living on the capital’s streets.

Art classes at the JRS Children Protection Centre.

JRS Ethiopia works in partnership with UNHCR and The Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) to manage the cases of these children individually. The collective goal is to reunite them with their parents and/or families, while always following the principle of the best interest of the child.

In the interim, JRS promotes a family-based, alternative care arrangement and works on identifying potential foster parents from the host community who are willing to provide parental care and protection for the children.

The Child Protection Centre (CPC) is unique to Addis Ababa, delivering a comprehensive child protection service for urban refugee children. The centre provides quality and timely individual case management services including alternative care arrangements, psychosocial support (individual and group counselling, and art therapy), cash-based intervention (emergency individual protection assistance and cash assistance for vulnerable foster parents), and community-based outreach services.

The CPC provides non-formal English and Amharic language classes, to ensure that refugee children can easily communicate and integrate with their host community. There are also music and art classes, a library, and indoor and outdoor recreational activities.

Reading a book at the JRS library at the Centre.

One of the biggest challenges JRS faces is convincing children and their host families to enrol in school. Due to the temporary nature of their stay in Addis Ababa, along with the high expectation of resettlement, many refugees believe that attending school is unnecessary.

Therefore, JRS has had to raise awareness of the importance of education for children no matter the circumstances, which has increased attendance of refugee children in local schools.

JRS’s Case Management department is further challenged with finding reliable and obliging foster families where the children can feel welcomed, safe, and happy.

“The first day a child is sent to a foster family, we cannot sleep that night,” says Fitsum Berissaw, a Case Management Supervisor at CPC.

Recent budget constraints on UNHCR have threatened the closure of this essential initiative. Limited funding has already temporarily suspended a tutorship class, where students could receive assistance with their homework from staff, in a friendly space conducive to learning.


Consequently, JRS is trying to increase and diversify the donors who are supporting the program, to both ensure its continuity and to offer the best and most reliable assistance to these children as possible.

JRS hopes that we, and our partners, will be able to keep the doors of the Child Protection Centre wide open. This crucial project provides unaccompanied refugee children in Addis Ababa not only with family, but with opportunities to learn, grow, and heal.


For more information on JRS’s Child Protection Centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, please contact Neway Alemayehu, JRS Ethiopia Country Director, or Abrham Haile, CPC Programme Coordinator.