Child refugees seeking safety in the EU are suffering dog bites as they are violently forced back into Serbia.
Children make up almost half of the refugee and migrants arriving in Serbia. A fifth of these children, some as young as eight and nine years old, are travelling alone, without any family.
In the last two months, 1,600 cases of secret illegal push-backs from Hungary and Croatia have been alleged by refugees and migrants.
They say they’ve been forced – often violently – back into Serbia, despite already crossing its border into the two EU member states.
Dog bites and brutality
Our teams have seen people bearing dog bites and other injuries caused by brutal treatment at the hands of law enforcement officers.
Fear of the authorities can lead to children into the hands of smugglers, who are resorting to increasingly dangerous tactics to move refugees and migrants into Europe.
Once children have been drawn into these underground networks, it becomes much harder for aid agencies to reach them.
And when they are offered help, children are often too afraid to take it because of myths and misinformation spread by people smugglers.
A 12-year-old from Afghanistan told us: “During the trip I had many problems especially in the woods.
“The Bulgarian police beat us, took our money, asked us why we came to Europe. We also had problems with the Mafia.”
No escape from danger
Children and families travelling this route are exceptionally vulnerable, and are already facing sub-zero temperatures and appalling living conditions.
An Iraqi family described how they had crossed mountains on the Bulgarian border at night in the snow, carrying their 8-year-old daughter. By the time they arrived at our centre, the girl’s mother needed urgent medical attention.
They told us they had fled Iraq after a bomb hit their home, and the children could no longer go to school because of ISIS.
Like so many others, this family had escaped violence and terror only to encounter yet more danger.
Save the Children’s Jelena Besedic on the ground in Serbia, said: “In truth the refugee crisis has not abated. It’s simply a more dangerous route, especially for children.
“The EU-Turkey deal has given smugglers a firmer grip on a hugely profitable business, incorporating increasingly dangerous tactics to circumvent authorities.
“We are seeing injuries such as dog bites and people wounded by brutal treatment as they are pushed back.”
How we’re helping
More than 1,000 people are now sleeping rough in freezing conditions in the centre of Belgrade and more are arriving every day.
Forced to burn rubbish just to keep warm, some are falling prey to respiratory illnesses. Others need treatment for frostbite.
We’re working with child refugees and their families across Europe and the Middle East.
We keep children warm by providing warm clothes, blankets and fuel for heating. And we make sure they get vital medical care.
In Belgrade, we run a 24/7 centre to support new arrivals, identify lone children and refer them for help.
We’re also lobbying the EU to urgently increase funding for emergency shelters and life-saving care for those waiting for somewhere safe to sleep.