An update on the numbers of migrant children in south-eastern Europe: the latest UNICEF Situation report on Refugee and Migrant Response in Europe

In 2019 about 120,560 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe through Mediterranean migration routes. A quarter of these migrants were children and nearly 80% of them (22,700) were registered in Greece alone. These are some of the statistics reported in the latest issue of Situation report by UNICEF. Situation reports provides an update on the situation and needs of refugee and migrant children and women in Europe, as well as UNICEF's response and funding requirements.

During 2019 the overall migrant flow toward Europe decreased. However, since September it has been recorded a sudden increase in both the Central Mediterranean and the Balkan routes. In the first quarter of 2019 the monthly average rate of arrival in the Central Mediterranean route was 200 people, while in in the Balkan route was 1,800 people. Since September 2019 the average monthly rate was respectively 1,600 and 8,500 people. In December, about 45,650 migrant children (including 12,800 unaccompanied or separated from their families) were present in Greece, Italy, Bulgaria and the Western Balkans. UNICEF is responding to the needs of children and women on the move and seeking asylum in priority countries pursuing a two-pronged approach, which combines system strengthening through capacity-building, child rights monitoring and policy reform to ensure all vulnerable children and women have access to protection in a sustainable manner. 

According to the new edition of the Statistical immigration dossier by the IDOS Study and Research Centre, in Italy new presences of migrants radically decreased in 2018 and 2019. This was due to the closure of regular entry channels for non-Ue workers who, coming from abroad, want to settle in the Country, and the 2017 agreements between Italy and Libya. Migrants disembarked in Italy diminished to 23,370 during 2018 (-80.4% with respect to the 119,310 disembarked in 2017), and further decreased to 6,700 in the first 9 months of 2019. Accordingly, unaccompanied migrants decrease by 77% in 2018 in respect to 2017. In 2018 3,536 unaccompanied migrants reached the coasts of Italy, and during January-July 2019 the number was 555. By the 30 of June 2019, an estimated 7,270 unaccompanied and separated children were housed in Italian reception facilities. Most of them (86%) are teen-agers (16-17 years old). According to the Unicef report, 5,300 are unaccounted. The main critical issue is the uprising numbers of minors in urban areas, especially Rome, where large numbers of refugee and migrant children are found squatting. 

In 2019 about 22,700 children arrived in Greece: the number was over 70% higher compared to 2018. An estimated 40,000 refugee and migrant children) currently live in Greece (48% higher than in 2018). Over 5,000 are unaccompanied or separated minors. the most relevant issue is the lack of adequate reception conditions, especially on Islands, which are forced to operate over their capacities.  Overcrowding in first line reception facilities results in limited assistance and care, health, psychosocial support, case management and protection. Furthermore, in 2019 it was registered an overall increase in the rejections of children’s asylum claims, compared to 2018, as well as significantly higher rejection ratios of asylum applications by older unaccompanied children (14-17 years old) compared to younger unaccompanied children. 

As the flows from the central Mediterranean and Balcan routes increased, secondary movements in the Western Balkans also continued, leading to worsened humanitarian situations in Serbia, Montenegro, and particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina where reception capacity and protection services remain limited. Due to lack of financial resources, in these Countries there are severe gaps in outreach services, impacting on the timely identification and assessment of unaccompanied and separated children. In a significant increase in people sleeping on the streets and in informal settlements has been recorded. In Bosnia-Herzegovina about 29,200 refugees and migrants were registered by national authorities in 2019. in December around 1,182 children remained in Una Sana canton. The majority aged 15-17 years old (734). 640 were unaccompanied. Luckily, in December the dangerous Vucjak camp was closed and all migrants that were living in inhumane conditions have been relocated. Even Montenegro have recorded an increased number of refugees and migrants, in October there was a peak of over 1,100 people. Usually migrants are passing through Montenegro and don’t stay in this Country longer than 15 days, however the few operational reception facilities remain overcrowded and the provisioning of care for women and children were scarce.

UNICEF has launched it’s 2020 humanitarian appeal, which is seeking US$ 27.3 million. In December 2019, UNICEF Refugee and Migrant Response in Europe was 70 per cent funded (US$ 20.6 million) thanks to contributions from public and private sector donors, including the European Union. The program aims to provide to newly arrived refugee and migrant minors access to critical services (health, phychological assistance, care) as well as protection and access to education and health provisioning to the children already arrived in Europe. Several are the actions already been taken.In Greece UNICEF support the Deputy Ombudswoman for the protection and promotion of children rights, and together with international intergovernmental organizations and Ngo’s a network for the right of children on the move have been established. UNICEF support is also given by empowering the capacity of the existing Child and Family Support Hub and in Lesvos and establishing a new one on Samos island. In Italy UNICEF, in collaboration with UNHCR and Save the Children, Intersos and Weworld developed standard operating procedure explaining the law regulations on the protection of unaccompanied minors in transit in Italy. In addition, during 2019 400 foster families were trained for promote the development of community-based alternatives to reception centers.