So far this year some 266,000 people crossed the Mediterranean. Although refugees and migrants continue using the Eastern Mediterranean route, in July Italy registered 10 times more arrivals than Greece.
Children make up 31 per cent of all refugees and migrants who have arrived by sea in 2016, and around 45 per cent of those stranded in south-east Europe. In addition, out of the 1,886,000 first time asylum applications, registered in Europe during the last 18 months, 43 per cent (or some 810,000 applications) were for children.
In July 2016, some 1,702 children benefitted from continuous provision of psycho-social support, recreational and learning activities in UNICEF-supported child-friendly spaces and Interagency “Blue Dots” in south-east Europe. In addition, 665 children at risk, including unaccompanied children, have been provided with case management services by outreach teams in Turkey and Greece.
UNICEF continues providing technical support to governments across southeast Europe on child nutrition and health and monitoring needs and gaps in service provision. In July, 790 babies and infants benefitted from direct infant and young child feeding services in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia.
While the past month has seen some positive developments and political commitments regarding the inclusion of children in the upcoming school year and the improvement of protection to unaccompanied children, UNICEF remains concerned about the protection standards in asylum and accommodation centres across Europe, including in de-facto detention, and the insufficient services for children who have endured trauma, abuse and exploitation during their journey to and through Europe.
Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs
Since the beginning of 2016, 266,266 people have arrived to Europe by sea. Although people continue using the Eastern Mediterranean route, in July Italy registered almost 23,500 arrivals, which is more than 10 times the number of arrivals in Greece. One in every three refugees and migrants was below 18, and it can be estimated that between January and July 2016 at least 5501 refugee and migrant children have lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea.
According to Eurostat, between January 2015 and June 2016 European countries have processed more than 1,990,000 first time asylum applications, 30 per cent (or some 587,000 applications) were for children. The majority of them have been placed in asylum and accommodation centres across Europe, where they often spend months. This remains a major concern, as national systems still struggle to ensure adequate access to services such as mental health and psycho-social support, education and age-appropriate nutrition, as well as minimum protection standards in asylum centres in the midst of rising hate crime incidents and reports of abuse and exploitation against refugee and migrant children. In addition, recent reports from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) have brought to light gaps in terms of birth registration of refugee and migrant children, which can have significant negative consequences in terms of legal identity and access to essential healthcare and vaccination programmes. UNICEF is also concerned about the potential effects of the recent events in Turkey on children’s access to education and other essential humanitarian services.
The situation of unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) in Europe continues to be alarming. In Italy, where more than 90 per cent of all child refugees and migrants arrive unaccompanied, operational and human rights agencies continue bringing evidence of the trauma and harm, endured by children during their journey to Europe, which requires appropriate support and protection measures. In Greece, despite continuous efforts of the Government and partners, of the 2,250 registered refugee and migrant UASC, 65 per cent are still outside the child welfare system, and some 370 children still await alternatives to closed facilities. Guardianship and provision of appropriate accommodation and specialized services remain challenging in many countries across Europe, and the phenomenon of increasingly younger UASC2 among arrivals to Europe makes the needs for urgent measures and sustainable solutions even more pressing.
While recent Eurostat data showing that 160,000 children (including 20,700 Syrian children) have benefitted from family reunification last year, family reunification of refugee and migrant children already in Europe remains difficult with less than 30 UASC relocated from Greece and Italy to other European countries where they may have family members. Nevertheless, UNICEF welcomes commitments by Governments, such as Germany, Greece and Italy, which have made considerable efforts to improve the protection and care of refugee and migrant children during the past month. These include commitments for reforms and improved monitoring and application of protection standards in Germany, alternatives to detention and guardianship for UASC in Greece and the relocation of all UASC from hotspots to newly-established protective centres in Italy. In addition, UNICEF welcomes efforts and timely actions, undertaken by the Government of Greece and other European countries towards the integration of refugee and migrant children in their national Education systems starting from September.