UNICEF Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe: Regional Humanitarian Situation Report #23, 16 May 2017
Between January and April 2017, 45,011 people entered Europe by sea- 90 per cent of them arrived in Italy. While the proportion of children among sea arrivals in the first four months of 2017 has decreased by ten per cent compared to the same period last year, the number of children on the Central Mediterranean Route, who arrive unaccompanied or separated, is on the rise with 5,500 newly registered UASC- one thousand more than the same period of time last year.
Between January and April 2017, UNICEF supported the identification of a total of 6,206 children at risk through outreach activities in Turkey, Greece, Italy, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the provision of structured non-formal education for 2,344 children in Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as well as the capacity-building of 1,303 frontline workers across Europe.
April saw an important milestone for the protection of refugee and migrant children, with the adoption of a new policy guidance by the European Commission (12 April 2017), calling on Member States to prioritize funding for children, refrain from unnecessary and invasive age assessments and increase legal pathways for children to safely reach Europe. Yet, the situation on the ground in Greece, Italy, Germany and other European countries remain pressing and requires urgent action by stakeholders at all levels in translating these policies into tangible measures towards improved protection, care and support to refugee and migrant children and women.
SITUATION IN NUMBERS
# of arrivals in Europe through Italy, Greece and Spain in January-April 2017 (UNHCR, 10 May 2017)
1 in 4
Of all arrivals in January-April 2017 are children (UNHCR, 10 May 2017)
# of child asylum-seekers in Europe between January and March 2017 (Eurostat, 10 April 2017)
# of estimated stranded children in Greece, Bulgaria, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia in April, 2017 (UNICEF, 5 May 2017)
# of children relocated from Greece and Italy under the EU relocation scheme by April 2017 (IOM, Italian MoI, 10 May 2017)
UNICEF Appeal 2017 US$ 43,452,000
Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs
Between January and April 2017, 45,011 people entered Europe by sea- 90 per cent of them arrived through the Central Mediterranean Route. While the proportion of children among all sea arrivals in the first four months of 2017 has decreased by ten per cent compared to the same period last year, the number of children on the Central Mediterranean Route, who arrive unaccompanied or separated (UASC), is on the rise with 5,5511 newly registered UASC- one thousand more than the same period of time last year.
According to recently released Eurostat data, of the 396,705 children, who claimed asylum in Europe in 2016, 63,300 (16 per cent) were unaccompanied or separated. 2 This is almost double to the number of UASC who arrived through the Mediterranean last year, suggesting many of these children may have undertaken different irregular routes. In fact, legal pathways to Europe remain very limited and those that are available to children in European countries at the forefront of the crisis, like Greece and Italy, remain slow and highly bureaucratic.
Since the launch of the EU Relocation Scheme in late 2015 only 5,693 children have been relocated (5,268 from Greece and 425 from Italy). Moreover, out of the 5,000 requests for family reunification (including 700 requests by UASC) in Greece in 2016, just 1,107 successful applicants reached their families in other parts of Europe by the end of the year.
There are over 71,000 refugees and migrants, including 25,602 children, currently stranded in the Balkans (20,300 of whom in Greece). The situation remains fluid with continuous irregular crossings from Turkey to Bulgaria and Greece, as well as onwards to the Western Balkans, and most recently to Romania. It is difficult to estimate how many children have continued their journey to Western and Northern Europe in 2017, yet in just three months almost 7,700 people (including an estimated 35 per cent children) were registered crossing the Hungarian-Serbian border.
Often confronted with the lack of perspective about what is ahead for them, refugee and migrant children and families’ psychological wellbeing is deteriorating, leading to anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Convinced that they could find better protection and opportunities elsewhere in Europe, many refugees and migrants, including children, resort to smugglers, risking abuse and exploitation.
As highlighted in a recent study, there are growing reports of gender-based violence in Greece - primarily domestic violence, but also other forms of violence and exploitation including commercial sexual exploitation, which is increasingly affecting UASC. Moreover, facing uncertainty and lacking resources to reach preferred destinations, most children get trapped in this reality leading to significant physical, psychological and behavioral consequences.Similar concerns have been raised over an increased number of UASC dropping out from the system in Germany, the UK, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands. A number of child rights violations have also been reported in Hungary, where many children continued passing through during the course of 2016-2017.
Nevertheless, April saw an important milestone for the protection of refugee and migrant children, with the adoption of a new Communication on the Protection of Children in Migration by the European Commission (12 April 2017), which calls on Member States to prioritize EU and national funding for children, to refrain from unnecessary and invasive age assessments and to increase resettlement and other legal pathways for children to safely reach Europe. The commitment by the European Commission to invest in child protection training, guidance and tools is another positive development, which will help ensure that children’s best interests are properly assessed in all decisions that concern them. National governments also took some practical steps towards the improved protection of refugee and migrant children, with the increased quota for UASC benefiting from transfers from France, Greece and Italy to the UK under the Dubs programme (from 350 to 480 places available), as well as the regularization of the status of rejected asylum-seeking UASC in Sweden, under condition they are attending school.