More than one million people arrived in Europe by sea in 2015. Since the beginning of 2016, almost 82,640 new arrivals were registered, 76,607 of them on Greek shores.
Women and children are now 59 per cent of refugees and migrants crossing from Greece into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and children make up 37 per cent.
The Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan, on which UNICEF has partnered with UNHCR and IOM, was launched by UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, and IOM Director General, William Lacy Swing, during a high level event on 25 January in Geneva. UNICEF Special Coordinator for the refugee and migrant crisis, Marie-Pierre Poirier spoke on the rights and protection of refugee and migrant children in Europe.
In January 2016, 32,191 children were able to rest and play in safe environment and received psycho-social support in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia.
In January, 5,682 babies and infants, and 11,966 mothers benefitted from IYCF counselling and support in 6 MBSs.
Below zero temperatures, uncertainty due to fast evolving political situation, as well as limited time for the provision of services are the major operational challenges faced by UNICEF and partners.
Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs Between
1 January and 9 February 2016, 82,636 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe by sea, 76,607 of whom on Greek shores. Although there was a decrease in sea crossings from Turkey to Greece compared to the month of December 2015, when nearly 109,000 people undertook the journey, the number of arrivals in January 2016 is 35 times higher than in January 2015. Only since the beginning of the year, 76 children (or almost two every day) lost their lives while trying to reach safety and protection in Europe (IOM).
Although total number of refugees and migrants transiting through the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has dropped since December 2015, the proportion of children has increased from 24 per cent of all registered arrivals in September 2015 to 37 per cent in January 2016. The proportion of women and children has also continued to increase, and is now 59 per cent. In Germany, where more than one million people sought protection last year, one third of all asylum seekers were children (BAMF, Germany). The large majority were accompanied children- half of whom under 5 years of age, and over two thirds younger than 10 years.
Germany is currently host to some 60,0001 unaccompanied children primarily from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Of them, 14,439 sought asylum in 2015 (BUMF-Germany). In Sweden, 35,369 unaccompanied children sought asylum in 2015, mostly young Afghans (Migrationsverket, Sweden). This amounts to one and half times the number of all unaccompanied children registered in the entire EU in 2014. Yet, there is a large difference between the number of asylum applications submitted in countries of final destination and registrations in countries, where children are on the move. According to IOM, only 11 unaccompanied and separated children were registered in Greece during the period 28 January – 3 February. In Italy, unaccompanied and separated children in represent 4 per cent of all arrivals in January. It is estimated that many unaccompanied and separated children on the move do not register, often due to fear of being prevented to continue their journey to countries of final destination. This, however, places them at risk of becoming victims of trafficking, exploitation and abuse.
UNICEF is particularly concerned about the humanitarian conditions of refugee and migrant children, especially infants, battling cold and snow across the Western Balkans, as temperatures can reach -20°C during the night. Cases of children with signs of hypothermia have also been recorded in Gevgelija, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Shelter, warm clothes and baby blankets are currently among the most pressing needs for refugee and migrant children and their families across the Western Balkans.
UNICEF has also observed the increasing uncertainty among refugees and migrants as Governments undertake different measures to stem flows of people through their territories. The increased cross-border communication and coordination between the countries on the Western Balkans route has accelerated the registration process for the populations on the move, and has also led to tighter border control, stricter nationality verification, selective processing and quotas. The newly introduced legislation on accelerated procedures for persons from safe countries in Germany is another factor, which influences political decision-making along the Western Balkans migration route. This complex political situation exposes refugees and migrants to the risk of getting stranded or being pushed back, and raises further concerns about potential exacerbation of smuggling and human trafficking, exposing children and families to greater protection risks.
With increasing sporadic border closures between the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece, the emergence of alternative migration routes has become highly probable. In January, around 200 refugees and migrants, many of them children, undertook mountainous routes from Greece to Bulgaria, and UNICEF is closely following the situation.