Unaccompanied Refugee and Migrant Children in Europe Need Urgent Protection as Winter Approaches

Human Wrongs Watch

Warning of poor weather conditions and fast-approaching winter, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on 16 October 2015 raised concerns about the protection of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children on the move in Europe, where several countries are faced with overstretched national capacities and insufficient coordination.

A boy carrying his belongings in a large cloth bag over his shoulder is among people walking on railway tracks to cross from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia into Serbia. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2015-2203/Georgiev

Speaking at a press briefing in Geneva, UNICEF spokesperson Christopher Boulierac said, by example, that children arriving in the Balkans were physically exhausted, traumatized and some were in need of medical assistance.

Boulierac stressed that the number of children on the move is persistently rising and despite changing political scenarios in Western Europe and the dangerous sea crossing, there is no indication that the numbers will decrease in the near future.

As such, he urged the governments in Europe to also pay specific attention to the coming winter and its impact on refuge and migrant families with children.

The agency is unable to get accurate estimates of the number of children and teenagers travelling alone, as most avoid registration as they do not want to be trapped in [a] country and prefer joining their families in another European country.

There are also difficulties in properly registering the overall number of people on the move. On related issues, he reported that in Opatovac, Croatia, lack of heating and limited access to separate washing facilities has led to health risks for children and their families.

He added that the agency has made provisions of water and sanitation facilities, and distributed winterization goods such as blankets and winter clothes.

According to Boulierac, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had registered 3,857 unaccompanied children between June and October this year, however the number could be twice as high.

He stressed that stronger evidence-based data on children on the move in country of origin, passage and destination must be urgently established.

Boulierac also informed reporters that UNICEF had taken a preliminary visit to Austria and had conducted rapid assessment missions in Germany, Hungary and Greece to assess the situation of refugee and migrant children and women and to make recommendations.

The assessment missions revealed overstretched national capacities, insufficient coordination and unmet child protection standards in reception and transit centres.

He added the UNICEF Mission in Germany had received reports of multiple alleged incidences of gender-based violence and abuse in reception centres and shelters and said the perpetrators were like to be other persons on the move.

Lastly, Boulierac reminded that that UNICEF was working on an operational level and strongly advocating that governments ensure that children and their families would be properly protected, especially in the coming weeks and months. (Source: UN).

2015 Human Wrongs Watch

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