Greece + 8 more

UNICEF Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe: Humanitarian Situation Report #31 (January - March 2019)

Situation Report
Originally published



  • During the first quarter of 2019, some 16,000 refugees and migrants arrived through the Mediterranean migration routes. Although this represents a slight decrease compared to the same period in 2018, the proportion of children has increased from one in five to one in every four arrivals in Europe.

  • Between January and March 2019, UNICEF helped some 4,480 children benefit from quality specialized child protection support and close to 1,950 unaccompanied children being assisted with care and protection in Italy, Greece and the Balkans. Another 15,850 children regularly attended UNICEF-supported formal and non-formal education activities, while some 1,100 people also accessed GBV prevention and response services.

  • The operational context in Europe remains challenging with increased standoffs and fatalities at sea and a polarized public debate on migration. While many governments have made progress in reforming national protection and education systems to improve refugee and migrant children’s reception conditions, access to mainstream services, there is an unfinished agenda requiring further attention to durable solutions, protection from violence, abuse and exploitation, and overall to social inclusion.

  • As UNICEF refugee and migrant response in Europe enters into its fifth year, activities have been optimized and funding requirements revised to better reflect the evolving needs of refugee and migrant children in frontline countries.

These now amount to US$ 27.5 million, of which US$ 12.4 million is for child protection and US$ 9.4 million is for education.


16,000 # of arrivals in Europe through Italy, Greece, Spain and Bulgaria between January and September 2018 (UNHCR, 1 April 2019)

3,800 Estimated # of children among all arrivals in JanuaryMarch 2019 (UNHCR, 1 April 2019)

26,000 # of child asylum-seekers in Europe between January and March 2019 (Eurostat, 10 April 2019)

29,720 # of estimated stranded children in Greece and the rest of the Balkans in March 2019 (UNICEF, 10 April 2019)

17,300 # of unaccompanied and separated children registered in Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNICEF, 10 April 2019)

Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs

The peak of the refugees and migrant crisis in Europe was in 2015, when over a million refugees and migrants arrived in Europe.
Nevertheless, refugees and migrants continue to undertake treacherous journeys from the Middle East, East and West Africa, as well as South Asia, to seek safety, protection and better opportunities for themselves and their families. Between January and March 2019, some 16,000 people arrived in Greece, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria. This included an estimated 3,800 children, who added to some 41,000 children already present in reception facilities in Greece, Italy and the Balkans as of early 2019.

While measures by Italian and EU authorities to stop sea crossings through the Central Mediterranean route limited arrivals in 2018, there has been a worrying trend of reduced search and rescue operations. This has resulted in more refugees and migrants stranded at sea and increased drownings- in just three months 365 people lost their lives in the Mediterranean, which is over 60 per cent the total number of fatalities in 2018.

Many children making the journey to Europe have gone through violence and abuse, which have taken a toll on their psychological and physical wellbeing. This is particularly true for arrivals in Italy, where nearly all women and girls reported having survived some form of sexual or genderbased violence. A recent research revealed that men and boys are also often subject to sexual violence in the hands of armed groups, while kidnapped or imprisoned, especially in Libya. This is a challenging operational context, in which frontline workers are rarely equipped with the skills and tools to effectively respond to the needs of survivors or atrisk refugee and migrant girls, boys, women and men.

During the past three years, there has been notable progress made across Europe to improve conditions in governmentrun reception centres, enhance service provision and strengthen child protection systems. Nonetheless, refugee and migrant children continue facing high risks in overcrowded first-line reception centres in Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy and Spain, where protection standards are often compromised and services scarce.

Some 17,300 UASC (mainly 15 to 17 years old boys) registered in Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina2 still lack the continuum of care and protection, which results in serious gaps in their safety, education and other basic rights.
Furthermore, many of them are expected to soon reach adulthood and potentially lose the special protection warranted to individuals below the age of 18.

Although over half of refugee and migrant children in Greece and across the Balkans have been successfully enrolled in public schools, education remains an area of concern, particularly for pre-primary and upper-secondary school-age children, as they are often not covered by compulsory school programmes. In Serbia, for example, where most school age children are integrated, 89 per cent of upper-secondary school-age children are still out of school, and the situation is similar in other countries.

While ongoing EU migration and asylum policy reforms represent an opportunity to strengthen the coherence of migration management, progress has been uneven and serious child rights concerns remain. This especially applies to age assessment, migration detention, timely access to durable solutions, best interests determination procedures and the concept of off-shore disembarkation. Moreover, migration continues to exacerbate political divisions around elections, thus shifting public opinion and impacting national policies.