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Map of refugee and migrant movement in Europe
UNICEF photo: two adolescent boys on public transport © UNICEF/Italy/2019/Pagetti Ibrahim, a migrant from Sierra Leone, rides the train with his foster brother, Andrea, near where they live in Rome, Italy.

Refugee and migrant response in Europe

In 2020, UNICEF and partners plan for:
29,600

children reached with quality child protection support in Greece, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro

21,600

people accessing gender-based violence prevention and response services in Greece, Italy and Serbia

19,700

children reached with quality formal and non-formal education, including early childhood education in Greece, Bulgaria and Bosnia and Herzegovina

2020 requirements: US$27,323,190

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Snapshot

Total people in need: 257,7005
Total children (<18) in need: 72,0006

Total people to be reached: 98,3007
Total children to be reached: 56,3008

Refugee and migrant children in Europe, especially girls and boys traveling alone, are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, including gender-based violence, in countries of arrival, transit and destination. Despite drastic measures to stop irregular migration, including push-backs at borders and constraints on rescue operations, the influx level is expected to remain high in 2020 and 2021. In 2019, 57,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe, one quarter of them children.1 With the recent spike in the number of arrivals on the Eastern Mediterranean route, the situations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the Greek Islands remain challenging, with overcrowding, unsafe accommodations and limited access to basic services. Furthermore, refugee and migrant children continued to be detained for immigration control purposes. More than 47,000 refugee and migrant children (68 per cent boys and 32 per cent girls) are living in Greece, Italy and the Balkans.2 This includes children who arrived in 2019 and in previous years. Despite notable improvements in recent years, shifts in resource allocations and limited national response capacities have made it even more difficult for refugee and migrant children and their families to access quality basic health, protection and education services. Flaws in the implementation of national health, education, child protection and asylum policies, coupled with growing anti-migrant sentiments, are also threatening access to mainstream services and undermining the social inclusion of refugees and migrants. Over 11,700 unaccompanied or separated children, including 750 girls,3 require urgent care and protection specific to their ages and genders in Greece, Italy and the Balkans. Multi-sectoral coordination and responses at the local, national and European Union levels need to be prioritized to sustainably and jointly manage migration and allow children, young people and caregivers to recover from their ordeals and contribute to more inclusive societies.

Humanitarian strategy

2020 programme targets

Greece9

  • 24,000 children reached with quality child protection support
  • 5,000 people accessing gender-based violence prevention and response services
  • 18,400 children reached with quality formal and non-formal education, including early childhood education

Italy

  • 2,115 frontline workers and caregivers with improved knowledge and skills on child protection
  • 15,000 women, girls, men and boys reached with information on gender-based violence, available services and how to access them
  • 6,000 adolescent boys and girls benefiting from enhanced participation and empowerment

Bulgaria

  • 300 children reached with quality child protection support
  • 500 children, including adolescents, participating in structured non-formal education activities
  • 500 adolescent boys and girls benefiting from enhanced participation and empowerment

Serbia

  • 5,000 unaccompanied and separated children benefiting from appropriate care and standards
  • 1,300 people accessing gender-based violence prevention and response services
  • 300 children and youth reached with skills building, empowerment and participation activities

Bosnia and Herzegovina

  • 5,000 children reached with quality child protection support
  • 1,400 infants and young children accessing health and nutrition services
  • 800 children reached with quality formal and nonformal education

Montenegro

  • 300 children reached with quality child protection support
  • 250 infants and young children benefiting from lifesaving vaccines

Regional technical support

  • 9 countries benefiting from enhanced preparedness and response capacities

In 2020 and 2021, UNICEF will continue to invest in strengthening national systems and improving reception conditions and access to basic services for refugee and migrant boys, girls and women. These efforts will complement tolerance, diversity and social cohesion programmes being implemented under the Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees. UNICEF will support governments to align their national policies with regional and international norms and improve their capacities to address the immediate and longer-term needs of refugee and migrant children and families. This will entail removing barriers to public health, education, protection and social welfare services. Social workers and other frontline personnel will be trained to identify and mitigate risks associated with health and protection, accompany children and caregivers through asylum and other relevant procedures, and ensure timely referrals to specialized services. Teachers will be assisted to strengthen their approaches to intercultural education, teaching in a foreign language and life-skills education. Direct service provision in selected locations will enable accompanied and unaccompanied children and youth in reception facilities and urban areas to access integrated mental health and psychosocial support. Priorities will include the provision of appropriate care to unaccompanied children, preferably in communities, in addition to legal aid and guardianship. School-aged children and adolescents will benefit from after-school support and catch-up classes to promote their inclusion in public schools. Pregnant and breastfeeding women will be supported to care for their children, including by accessing immunization. Gender-based violence survivors and at-risk groups will receive age-and gender-appropriate information, referrals and support. The engagement of young people through empowerment and skills-building will be scaled up across countries to boost youth resilience and provide young people with opportunities to share their voices and views. At the regional level, in close collaboration with other United Nations agencies and civil society, UNICEF will monitor and analyse risks, strengthen knowledge and support preparedness and response, including through the mobilization of technical expertise and resources when needed. UNICEF welcomes the European Union’s renewed commitments to solidarity, human borders and burden sharing and is looking forward to supporting their implementation. Advocacy will focus on national and regional policy reforms that uphold children’s right to safe migration, improve best interests’ determination and age assessment, put an end to child immigration detention and secure unhindered access to basic social services, including health care and education.

Results from 2019

As of 31 August 2019, UNICEF had US$6.5 million in emergency funds available against the US$29.5 million appeal (22 per cent funded).4 Another US$9.3 million in non-emergency funds was also available. Using an approach that strengthens national systems and capacities to respond, UNICEF has reached over 300,000 refugee and migrant children in Europe with a comprehensive package of services since 2015. This includes 28,400 children (72 per cent boys and 28 per cent girls) reached between January and August 2019. Of these children, some 12,300 benefited from mental health and psychosocial support and other protection services; 4,500 unaccompanied and separated children accessed care and information about specialized services with UNICEF support; over 3,600 survivors and people at risk of gender-based violence were reached with gender-based violence prevention and response services; and nearly 600 frontline workers were trained to identify and assist such cases. Additionally, some 1,260 staff in reception centres and care facilities for unaccompanied children were trained on child protection standards. UNICEF technical assistance has helped government partners review and/or improve the implementation of their child protection legal and policy frameworks, and increase their capacities for reception and service provision. As a result, community-based care for unaccompanied children has been scaled up and protection safeguards have been strengthened in reception centres across the region. As part of its efforts to promote the integration of refugee and migrant children into public education, UNICEF helped nearly 14,000 children enter public schools in host countries, and supported nearly 6,500 children with structured non-formal education programmes, including early childhood education activities. UNICEF worked with education authorities to make public schools more inclusive and equipped some 600 teachers with the required knowledge, skills and technology solutions to manage diverse classrooms. Joint evidence generation, communication and advocacy work with civil society, United Nations agencies, ombudspersons and UNICEF National Committees continued to raise the profile of refugee and migrant children in relevant technical and policy forums to advance the realization of their rights.

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Funding requirements

UNICEF is requesting US$53.21 million, including US$27.32 million for 2020 and US$25.89 million for 2021, to support the immediate and longer-term humanitarian needs of refugee and migrant children and women in Europe. To optimize the response, this funding will enable UNICEF to sustain critical services while addressing major gaps in national systems across child protection, education, health, youth engagement, as well as gender-based violence prevention and response in six countries – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Montenegro and Serbia – benefiting a greater number of children. If their needs are unaddressed, refugee and migrant boys and girls risk falling through the cracks of national systems and ending up in the hands of criminals and traffickers, putting their longer-term futures at risk. Given the fluid situation of refugee and migrant children, UNICEF is requesting flexible funding that will allow programmes to reach those in need in a comprehensive way. In line with UNICEF’s multi-regional approach, these requirements complement the Humanitarian Action for Children appeals for Syrian refugees, the Middle East and North Africa and West and Central Africa.

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2020 requirements by sector

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2021 requirements by sector

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1 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, ‘Operational Portal – Refugee Situations: Mediterranean situation’, UNHCR, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/mediterranean, accessed 4 November 2019.
2 United Nations Country Team Bosnia and Herzegovina; Bulgaria State Agency for Refugees; Greece National Center for Social Solidarity; Italy Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Montenegro; and UNHCR Serbia.
3 Ibid.
4 Available funds include US$3.1 million received against the 2019 appeal and US$3.4 million carried forward from the previous year.
5 This number is based on the current refugee and migrant populations present in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Montenegro and Serbia, as well as an estimation of new arrivals in 2020 in these countries. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, August 2019.
6 Ibid.
7 This includes 47,100 people, including 34,800 children, in Greece; 38,195 people, including 11,045 children, in Italy; 950 people, including 750 children, in Bulgaria; 3,700 people, including 3,400 children, in Serbia; 7,800 people, including 6,000 children, in Bosnia and Herzegovina; and 550 people, including 350 children, in Montenegro. These numbers are based on those currently present plus estimated new arrivals in 2020. This includes an estimated 29,500 women and girls.
8 This includes an estimated 15,400 girls, and is based on both the current caseload and estimated new arrivals in 2020.
9 Countries are presented in the following order: countries of arrival (Greece, Italy and Bulgaria), followed by countries affected by secondary migration (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro), with countries with the greatest refugee/migrant population needs listed first within each group.