As flood of child refugees and migrants into Europe soars, UN calls for enhanced protection

A boy from Afghanistan receives warm gloves at a UNICEF distribution point in the Winter Reception Transit Center in Slavonski Brod, Croatia. Photo: UNICEF/Vanda Kljajo

2 February 2016 – Child protection systems across Europe are completely overwhelmed as the rate of youngsters in the flood of refugees and migrants has soared to one in three compared with one in 10 less than a year ago, the United Nations warned today, calling for strengthened steps to prevent exploitation and abuse.

Although there is a great risk of trafficking, so far there has only been anecdotal evidence, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) spokesperson Sarah Crowe told a news briefing in Geneva, giving the latest update on the situation.

For the first time since the start of the crisis, the majority of those crossing from Greece into the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia at Gevgelija, nearly 60 per cent, have been children and women, she noted.

Germany and Sweden have the most thorough data on the numbers of unaccompanied children who have requested asylum – 60,000 and 35,400 respectively. More and more children and women are at risk at sea and need support on land through enhanced protection, health and welfare systems, she said.

Effective guardianship programs for children on the move are needed every step of the way and reports of children who are not fully accounted for in these systems are extremely worrying, she stressed. Effective guardianship programmes for children on the move are needed every step of the way.

Unaccompanied children are mainly adolescents 15 to 17 years old, coming primarily from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, Ms. Crowe said. In some countries, they are temporarily delayed, get frustrated and tend to move on, as they do not want to be detained in centres.

UNICEF has no concrete evidence regarding violence experienced by children and women, Ms. Crowe said. The reunification rate for children lost in transit has been 100 per cent so far and there are no children who are definitively lost.

UNICEF is waiting for a green light from the Greek Government to operate fully in Greece, since it now is only present through its national committee, focusing on advocacy and awareness-raising.


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