UNICEF Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe: Humanitarian Situation Report #30, End of Year 2018
In 2018, some 141,500 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe through the Mediterranean migration routes. On average one in every four was a child. This included an estimated 6,000 unaccompanied and separated children.
In 2018, UNICEF-supported child protection activities in Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Germany reached over 28,000 children, while another 18,900 children benefitted from UNICEF-supported formal and nonformal education activities.
Some 4,550-people accessed gender-based violence prevention and response services, and close to 1,200 social workers and other frontline professionals benefitted from capacity-building on child protection standards and child protection in emergencies.
Beyond life-saving services, UNICEF also engaged with governments and civil society to ensure sustainability through improved human resources capacities and more robust national child protection and education systems.
While 2018 presented a major opportunity for the improved protection of children on the move and seeking asylum in European States with the adoption of the Global Compacts on Refugees and on Migration, many challenges remain. Hardening migration and asylum policies and legislation, rescue boats stranded at sea, push-backs at borders, long stays in sub-standard reception facilities, xenophobia and limited access to services and legal pathways towards durable solutions continue to affect refugee and migrant children.
Situation in Numbers
- 141,500: # of arrivals by sea and land in Europe through Greece, Bulgaria, Italy and Spain between Januaryand December 2018 (UNHCR, 10 January 2019)
- 34,200: Estimated # of children among all arrivals by sea and land in Greece, Bulgaria, Italy and Spain in 2018 (UNHCR, 10 January 2019)
- 159,000 # of child asylum-seekers in Europe between January and December 2018 (Eurostat, 10 January 2019)
- 29,300 # of estimated children present in Greece and the rest of the Balkans in December 2018 (UNICEF, 10 January 2019)
Situation Overview & Humaitarian Needs
In 2018, some 141,500 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe through the Eastern, Central and Western Mediterranean migration routes. On average one in every four of them was a child (UNHCR). This included an estimated 6,000 unaccompanied and separated children. While overall sea arrivals have dropped by almost 20 per cent as compared to 2017 following measures to stop sea crossings through the Central Mediterranean route, other Mediterranean routes in the East and West saw increased influx over the past year. In fact, in 2018 half of all newly arrived refugee and migrant children in Europe were registered in Greece (some 17,200 children) with another 35 per cent in Spain. Most of them fled conflict, violence, insecurity and lack of opportunities in the Middle East, South Asia, East and West Africa.
2018 presented a major opportunity for the improved protection of children on the move and seeking asylum in Europe with the adoption of the Global Compact on Migration by 152 Member States, who made important commitments for upholding children’s best interests in all situations, reaffirming the principle of family unity, and ensuring children have access to services such as health, education and case management. In many instances, local and national authorities have already been acting on improving legislation, strengthening protection standards (e.g. Germany, Greece, Italy) and making public schools more inclusive and welcoming to refugee and migrant children (Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia).
Nevertheless, migration has been high on the political agenda across Europe, leading to increased political division and hardening national migration and asylum policies (e.g. limited access to international protection, accelerated returns and criminalization of humanitarian assistance). This has coupled with ongoing restrictions to search and rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean resulting in refugees and migrants stranded at sea, as well as tightened border control and violent push-backs at borders not only in the Balkans, but also in Western Europe. Hate crimes and discrimination have also been on the rise.
Reception conditions, particularly for unaccompanied and separated children (UASC), remain a major concern, especially in countries of arrival, due to insufficient alternative care arrangements and increasing immigration detention, including as a “protective custody” measure. In Greece, for example, the number of refugee and migrant UASC in first reception and identification centres (RICs) and protective custody together has increased by close to 60 per cent compared to December 2017, reaching some 790 UASC. Similar practices have also been observed in Bulgaria and Spain.
Refugee and migrant children across Europe still have insufficient access to information, durable solutions and services such as legal aid, health, education, protection (mental health and psychosocial support, guardianship, case-management, foster care arrangements, etc.). Such situations can deprive them of their entitlements and lead to long-term negative effects on children’ development and wellbeing, and heighten the risks of violence, abuse and even trafficking.