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The World Must Create Safe Passage for Children and Refugees in Every Conflict

20/09/2016 23:33 | Updated 23 September 2016

Children and women suffer the most in any conflict and arguably their needs are deemed secondary to the pressing matters facing the international community until the world is shocked by tragic images like that of Aylan Kurdi, Omran Daqneesh, victims of Kony, or Maimuna aged 2 amputated by rebels in a senseless civil war that had gone on for far too long.

Sadly in every conflict horrendous crimes against children are committed daily, but are often underreported or left to continue until they hit a crescendo, by which time it is too late for Ali (Omran's brother) and many others.

I was aged 4 when the war broke out in Liberia where my parents were living at the time. Here they ran a boarding school, clinic, farms, and led a church community. The war started shortly after my father left Liberia to learn about pig farming in the UK, and was stuck overseas whilst my mother was left with me and scores of children and young people from the boarding school to look after.

Initially living was bearable so we stayed and sought to co-exist with the shelling and constant attacks from warring factions. But life steadily became worse; there was no food; we were living under constant threats; and my mother was forced to move the family when the girls in the boarding school were threatened with abduction and rape by the rebels. By the age of 13 my family had been forced to move seven times between three countries and in five of those times we lost everything and had to start all over again.

Each move was precipitated by a real danger and threat to life, especially because my parents had opened our home to child soldiers, unaccompanied children and war orphans rescued and rehabilitated over 800 children. And those dangers are multiplied in the Middle East today. Our partners in Iraq tell us of thousands of children and women stuck in conflict zones, and unable to find a way out.

Take for example Iman a 15 year old Yazidi girl abducted by ISIS as she tried to flee and was sold off to the highest bidder.

Being captured at the age of 4 by rebel forces threatening to kill my mother and keep me, but both of us later being released, and hearing the stories of some of the children rescued by my father made me very aware of the big impact a safe passage can have in a conflict.

I was fortunate that wherever we found ourselves, my mother made time to teach me how to read and write. My father placed a lot of emphasis on education, he wrote "to educate a child is to build a nation" on the walls.

And today the truth of that saying can be seen in the work of these child soldiers and war orphans now men and women with whom I run Lifeline Nehemiah Projects, the charity and social enterprise set up by my father and focussed on rebuilding Sierra Leone.

But this is not the case for majority of the young people in Sierra Leone where 70% of young people remain unemployed or underemployed. The workless situation is severe for young adults, many of whom had their education disrupted by the civil war that ravaged the nation in the 1990s.

As world leaders gather at the UNGA, my call to them would be for them to ensure safe passages for people stuck in conflicts, and to ensure that adequate education is prioritised for these young people. Education is a key protection tool and a tangible guarantor of our hope for a better future.

I conclude by restating that the world must create safe passages for children and refugees in every conflict.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post to mark the occasion of two critical conferences at the UN on the Refugee and Migrant crisis: the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants (Sept. 19th, a UN conference) and the Leaders Summit on Refugees (Sept. 20th, hosted by U.S. Pres. Barack Obama, at the UN). To see all the posts in the series, visit here. To follow the conversation on Twitter, see #UN4RefugeesMigrants.

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