Greece + 16 more

UNICEF Refugee and Migrant Response in Europe: Humanitarian Situation Report #38 (1 July to 31 December 2020)

Situation Report
Originally published


  • Between January and December 2020, 94,800 refugees and migrants (18.5 percent of whom are children) arrived in Europe. Most countries reported decreases in arrivals during the first half of 2020 due to the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, while numbers increased again in the second half of the year. Italy saw a steep surge in arrivals throughout the year due to the ongoing conflict in Libya.

  • In Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro, UNICEF reached approximately 51,000 children with a range of support. 30,500 accessed child protection services, including mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), case management and referral. Over 23,000 attended formal and non-formal education (NFE) activities. Around 9,400 women, girls, and boys benefitted from gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and response interventions.

  • Existing vulnerabilities of the migrant and refugee population were further exacerbated by several events, including the fire at Moria Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Greece and the closure and subsequent burning down of Lipa Emergency Tent Camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Humanitarian needs increased as affected children and families became exposed to harsh conditions. Anti-migrant sentiments among host communities following these events are particularly worrying. In addition, an increased number of pushbacks at borders and violence against refugees and migrants have been reported.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented socio-economic consequences severely impacted the health and wellbeing of refugee and migrants already living with limited access to basic services, including MHPSS, education, healthcare, and legal aid. To mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, continued efforts must be made to ensure availability and access to basic services, particularly for accompanied and unaccompanied children who make up 27 percent of the refugee and migrant population in Europe.

  • In 2020, UNICEF received USD 26 million out of a USD 28 million appeal (7 percent funding gap). UNICEF acknowledges and appreciates the generous contributions from all public and private sector donors to support the migrant and refugee crisis response.

Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs

New arrivals in Europe between October and December are estimated at 35,730, bringing the total number in 2020 to approximately 94,800 (18.5 percent of whom are children). The estimated total number of refugee and migrant children in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, and Serbia, is now 60,000. Many remain dependent on humanitarian assistance, including 12,000 unaccompanied and separated children (UASC). Main countries of origin are Tunisia (19.9%), Algeria (14.1%), Morocco (7.7%), Bangladesh (6.9%), Afghanistan (6.7%), and Syria (5,6%).

By March 2020, government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic included border closures and travel bans which severely restricted the mobility of refugees and migrants. Many were left stranded at international borders. The pandemic had short- and long-term impacts on the health and wellbeing of refugee and migrant populations, including children, as access to critical basic services, including health, mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), education, and legal aid became increasingly limited. Support to children who are separated from their families and caregivers, experiencing psychological distress, or are vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence remains a priority for UNICEF.

In September, a fire broke out at Moria Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) on the Greek island of Lesvos, leaving approximately 12,000 refugees, migrants and asylum seekers homeless. Among the affected were 4,200 children, including more than 400 UASC. With partners, UNICEF transformed the Tapuat Child and Family Support Hub into an emergency shelter, distributed emergency supplies, and supported the transfer of 406 UASC to the mainland. As the lead agency for responding to critical needs in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), UNICEF supported the Government in developing and implementing a WASH strategy for the new reception centre in Lesvos.

In December, 1,400 migrants, including women and children, were left without shelter amid harsh winter conditions after the Lipa Emergency Tent Camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina was closed and a subsequent fire destroyed the camp. This increased the number of refugees and migrants in need of humanitarian aid in Una Sana Canton to almost 3,000. UNICEF and partners helped provide immediate humanitarian support including tents and non-food items. In both Lesvos and Una Sana Canton, plans to support and relocate the affected population prompted protests by local communities, underlining the fragility of these extremely vulnerable populations.