Foster Care for Unaccompanied children in Addis Ababa

21 April 2024|Paula Casado Aguirregabiria

Originally from Eritrea, Maryam and Yunnes are two young sisters, 12 and 10 years old, living in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia).  

Grown up without a father, their mother was rising them alone until, in 2014, she went through a resettlement process and was relocated to Europe. The girls, however, could not go with her… 


It is kind of common among single refugee parents to go through resettlement processes as individuals (without their children) since the chances of repatriation are higher as a stand-alone. In those cases, their expectations are to get family reunification once in Europe… although it is not always an easy process.

Here is where JRS comes into play: we walk with these unaccompanied children offering them art and music therapy, safe spaces to play and learn English, and other subjects. We have a strong team, whose sole duty is to support these children and, with the collaboration of UNHCR, to have them reunited with their parents.


When their mother left, Maryam and Yunnes moved in with their grandmother in Eritrea, but the living conditions were too harsh.  To try make everything easier for the girls, their mother, through a friend of hers, Gabriel, tried to get them out of the country.  

One day in 2017, Gabriel picked up the girls and crossed the frontier to Ethiopia, a very dangerous route where many desperate Eritreans risk their lives in search of a better future. On the journey, they found themselves in the middle of a gunfire. As a result of that chaos, Gabriel and Yunnes got separated from Maryam, the oldest sister. 


After losing sight of her, Gabriel and Yunnes looked for her throughout the border for a month, until they found her in a Refugee Camp in the Tigray region. The three of them then stayed there together for over a year. 

In 2018 Gabriel got sick, so he was sent to Addis Ababa for medical treatment. The two girls went with him.

Life Maryam and Yunnes was getting a bit better in Addis, when in 2021 Gabriel got resettled to a third country, leaving the girls behind (again).  He had promised to their mother that he would look after the girls, so before leaving he agreed with the landlord (Abebe, an old Ethiopian lady) to let the girls stay in the house. The landlord, Abebe, moved into the girls’ house and has been taking care of them since then.   

Abebe with the two girls t their home in Addis
Abebe with the two girls t their home in Addis

It was around that time that JRS met the sisters and did an evaluation of their situation and their current caregiver, who was assessed as appropriate to take care of the girls.  

The girls’ mother is still sending money on a monthly basis to Abebe, to care for their needs, in addition to the monthly support provided by JRS for vulnerable families.   


After all they have gone through, the two girls suffer from distress, fear, and anxiety. The lack of stability and the abandonment complex they experienced is significant. That is why, JRS and UNHCR considered appropriate to enrol both girls at the art therapy classes at JRS’ Child Protection Centre (CPC) along with psychosocial and financial assistance.   

They both go to public schools in Addis thanks to the support of JRS.  

Maryam enjoys English classes the most and she aspired to be a pilot.

The girls are in contact with their mother on a weekly basis, and their biggest dream is to be able to get reunited with her as soon as possible.  

JRS is working along with UNHCR to try and achieve this. The lack of maternal love and stability impedes Maryam and Yunnes to have the rights and possibilities of healthy development that should be ensured to every child in the world.   

They have a right to childhood, and JRS is working to try make that happen.  


JRS' Child Protection Center in Addis Ababa
JRS’ Child Protection Center in Addis Ababa