Refugee children at risk as temperatures plummet to - 20
With temperatures forecast to drop to as low as -20 °C in Serbia this week, children travelling along the refugee route are at risk of hypothermia as well as pneumonia and other potentially fatal respiratory illnesses, Save the Children staff warn.
Aid workers at the border reception centre in Presevo say there is six inches of snow on the ground and children are arriving with blue lips, distressed and shaking from the cold. Exhausted mothers say they are unable to keep their babies warm and dry, and are slipping over while carrying them on the icy roads.
Despite the freezing temperatures, around a thousand refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq are making the crossing every day. More are arriving on the Greek islands, including in Lesvos, where it is snowing this week and children are coming ashore wearing only t-shirts and soaking wet after travelling on unseaworthy rubber dinghies.
Speaking to Save the Children staff in Serbia, Nasir*, who fled the war in Syria five months ago with his wife and two small children, said he attempted the crossing from Turkey to Greece twice after someone drowned on the first attempt. “The boat journey was the hardest part. It was extremely cold, everything was wet and the babies were ill. We threw our bags off to the boat to stop it from sinking any further.”
“Sometimes I fear for my children. We couldn’t remain in Syria, but it doesn’t get this cold there. We have never been this cold,” he added.
Save the Children runs a ‘Safe Space’ shelter in Presevo where mothers and babies, as well as children travelling on their own, can stay for the night. The charity also provides children’s rain jackets, socks and shoes, as well as hot drinks and hygiene items, on the Serbia border and at other points along the route.
Despite this support, refugee children are being exposed to bitterly cold temperatures and are forced to walk long distances and sleep outside on their journey to safety. In Idomeni, on the Greek border with Macedonia, where the temperature is due to drop to -13°C this week, the authorities have blocked access to a transit camp where aid agencies provided heated tents and food to refugees. Families are now being forced to sleep outside at a nearby petrol station with no shelter.
Valentina Bollenback from Save the Children, who is currently at Presevo in Serbia, said: “The conditions here are very, very difficult, and with temperatures forecast to drop as low as -20 °C today, the lives of children are at risk.”
“The mothers I have met arriving here are distressed because they are unable to keep their babies warm and safe. We see children with early signs of hypothermia such as blue lips and hands, as well as high fevers and respiratory problems. Instead of focusing on closing their borders, Europe’s governments should be doing more to give people fleeing war a dignified and humane reception.”
Save the Children is calling on governments to prioritise the immediate protection and humanitarian needs of children and their families. That includes the right to have their individual claims to international protection and asylum assessed – in line with refugee and human rights laws – while providing access to proper shelter, food and healthcare. The international community must also look at safe and legal routes for refugees to claim asylum, to end families being forced to make dangerous journeys in search of safety.
For more information or interviews with Save the Children staff, please contact the media team on: firstname.lastname@example.org; 0207 0126841 / 07785527663