• Between January and June 2018, 50,800 refugees and migrants, including some 11,200 children, arrived in Europe through the Mediterranean. While Italy has recorded an 85 per cent decrease in sea arrivals in 2018 compared to the same period last year, Greece and Spain have seen a spike of 50 and 90 per cent respectively.
• During the first half of 2018, 12,629 children benefitted from UNICEF specialized child protection support in Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Serbia and Germany. 11,483 children were also reached with UNICEF-supported formal and non-formal education activities, while almost 1,435 frontline workers were trained on protection standards and other protection-related topics.
• Over 2,230 people also benefitted from GBV prevention and response services in Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria, and more than 630 frontline workers have been trained on GBV prevention, response and referral pathways in Greece, Italy and Bulgaria.
• Increasing reports of people stranded at sea, criminalization of humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants and controversial migration policies over the past six months have added to already existing challenges refugee and migrant children and their families in Europe face on a daily basis. The highly political context represents the most important constraint in UNICEF and partners’ efforts to respond to the needs and protect the rights of children on the move, stranded and seeking asylum across Europe.
SITUATION IN NUMBERS
# of arrivals in Europe through Italy, Greece, Spain and Bulgaria between January and June 2018
(UNHCR, 10 July 2018)
Estimated # of children among all arrivals in 2018
(UNHCR, 10 July 2018)
# of child asylum-seekers in Europe between January and June 2018
(Eurostat, 7 July 2018)
# of estimated stranded children in Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia in 2018
(UNICEF, 30 June 2018)
Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs
Between January and June 2018, some 50,800 refugees and migrants reached Europe through the Eastern, Central and Western Mediterranean routes. Among them around 11,200 were children. While Italy has recorded an 85 per cent decrease in sea arrivals during the first half of 2018 compared to the same period last year, Greece has seen the number of arrivals spike by almost 50 per cent. Spain has also recorded a 90 per cent increase in people crossing by sea – the majority of them arriving just in June.
Close to half of all child arrivals (5,001) were registered in Greece, where the proportion of children remains significantly higher than on other migration routes (37 per cent compared to 17 and 16 per cent in Italy and Spain respectively). Most children arriving in Greece come from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and are typically below 12 years old, with infants and small children (0 to 4 years old) making the largest age group. In Italy 2,600 unaccompanied adolescent children arrived by June 2018, adding to over 13,000 unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) in the Italian reception system. Based on Eurostat figures, more than 31,000 UASC claimed asylum in Europe in 2017.
Despite continuous efforts by governments and partners to respond to the needs of refugee and migrant children in Europe, challenges remain in in terms of family reunification, guardianship and foster care, as well as access to basic public services such as education, mental health and psychosocial support. Reception conditions are still sub-standard in many locations, particularly in Greece where first reception centres operate at 250 percent of their capacity, while 149 UASC remain in protective custody. Similarly, in Spain, some centres reportedly host four times more children than places available. Gender-based violence (GBV) is also a wide-spread issue as prevention and response services and referral pathways remain scarce. A recent UNICEF assessment in southern Italy, for example, indicated the lack of a structured institutional framework and significant capacity gaps among frontline workers to respond to GBV incidents and related mental health issues, particularly when it comes to adolescent girls and boys.
Over the second quarter of 2018, the situation in the Western Balkans has also evolved with the emerging new Balkans migration route through Bosnia and Herzegovina, where close to 7,700 people, including 142 UASC, were recorded – a 35-fold increase compared to the same period in 2017. Despite efforts by the government to provide for the basic needs of new arrivals by establishing two government-led shelters, many people are reported sleeping in the open in precarious conditions in Sarajevo and on the northern border with Croatia. In this context, the situation of UASC is of particular concern.
The past few months have also been marked by significant political developments across Europe aiming to strengthen migration management. Such efforts may represent an opportunity to speed-up asylum and family reunification procedures and strengthen the overall reception and protection systems for newly arrived children and families. Yet, the increasing reports of families and children stranded at sea, subject to violent push-backs at European borders and detained for migration control purposes raise significant concerns over the protection of extremely vulnerable refugee and migrant children and women. Recent acts of criminalization of individuals’ and civil society organisations’ humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants in Hungary also raised concerns over children’s increased exposure to risks of violence, abuse and exploitation, even human trafficking.