Map of refugee and migrant movement in Europe
UNICEF photo: Children in winter clothing stand behind a fence looking at camera © UNICEF/UN011210/Georgiev

Refugee and migrant crisis in Europe

In 2016, UNICEF and partners plan for:

children vaccinated with priority vaccines through campaigns led by the government of Greece


children at-risk (including UASC) identified and referred to appropriate care and services in Turkey


frontline workers and centre managers/coordinators trained in protection standards in emergencies to serve 30,000 children and women residing in accommodation centres in countries of destination

2016 Requirements: US$31,375,228

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Total affected population: 371,0002
Total affected children: 141,0003

Total people to be reached in 2016: 219,000
Total children to be reached in 2016: 141,0004

After 1 million refugees and migrants entered Europe1 in 2015, the projection for 2016 has been reduced to 359,000 – including an estimated 100,000 in Greece. This is mainly due to the dramatically changed context for children transiting through Europe as of early 2016. Children represented an increasing proportion of people arriving after arduous, often dangerous journeys, primarily from the Syrian Arab Republic and other conflict zones in the Middle East. Their journeys were put on hold, however, following border closures in the Western Balkans that left families suddenly living in different reception and transit centres designed to accommodate them for only a few hours. The situation became particularly challenging in Greece, where the Balkan route closure left over 50,000 people stranded on the mainland. The EU-Turkey agreement of 18 March reduced the number of people making the boat journey to Greece and left many of the new arrivals on the islands awaiting return to Turkey, creating alternative routes and new protection challenges for children. Needs are now focused around the provision of longer-term services and addressing the increased protection risks faced by children passing through the now-closed Balkans route.

Humanitarian strategy

2016 Programme Targets


  • 25,000 children vaccinated with priority vaccines through campaigns led by the government of Greece
  • 6,000 children received psychosocial support in family support hubs, Child Friendly Spaces and mother and baby corners
  • 2,000 children at-risk (including UASC) identified and referred to appropriate care and services


  • 30,000 children received basic supplies to protect them from weather conditions and keep good hygiene
  • 6,000 children at-risk (including UASC) identified and referred to appropriate care and services

West Balkan Countries (Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia)

  • 33,000 children received psychosocial support and assistance in family support hubs, child friendly spaces and mother and baby corners *

Counties of Destination (Germany, Italy and others)

  • 2,4006 frontline workers and centre managers/coordinators trained in protection standards in emergencies to serve 30,0007 children and women residing in accommodation centres

* The Western Balkans figure represents the highest number of children reached/targeted in any country, many of whom transited through multiple countries. Targets have decreased to reflect the shift from reaching a projected 100,000 children on the move to providing sustained services for static populations of around 10,000 children and women for the duration of the year.

As a result of the rapidly evolving context of early 2016, UNICEF has adapted its response to address the new challenges facing children. The emphasis in programmes and funding has increasingly shifted to Greece and Turkey, where the bulk of stranded children and women remain. While all countries in the Western Balkans (the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYRoM), Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia) have decreased their targets and funding requirements, needs remain in terms of providing families with a minimum of quality services as transit centres are now hosting people for prolonged periods of time. This includes an increased focus on education and structured programming in Family Support Hubs and child friendly spaces. UNICEF is also exploring how to address the protection risks faced by children and their families as they increasingly turn to irregular routes that present high risk to fall prey to human trafficking and smuggling networks. UNICEF will continue to expand its operations to support the Government of Greece in responding to the needs of children stranded in the country. Special attention will be given to unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) and children in detention. Vaccination campaigns will be held through the Greek authorities and Psychosocial support will be provided by working together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other partners to establish family support hubs and deliver an integrated package of child protection, health, nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene services for children and mothers. In Turkey, UNICEF will focus on identification and assisting 6,000 at-risk children through referral for specialised care. In destination countries, refugee and migrant children (especially living in collective accommodation) also face a range of protection risks and do not always have full access to needed social services. UNICEF will strengthen government and civil society capacity in countries of destination such as Germany, where UNICEF is providing technical assistance for the implementation of common protection standards for refugee and migrant children and women, including modeling of child-friendly spaces, and will strengthen the evidence base for improved policy making. On the Central Mediterranean route, where population flows from North Africa remain high, upon request, UNICEF is expanding its operational response to provide technical support to the government of Italy with focus on UASC. Response will be aligned with the multi-agency Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan and carried out in partnership with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross as well as other partners.

Results from 2015

As of 31 May 2016, UNICEF received 62 per cent (US$19 million)5 of its revised US$31 million appeal. Prior to border closures in March, UNICEF-supported child friendly spaces and family support hubs on the transit route, and delivered child protection, nutrition and hygiene services to children on the move in Croatia (17,278), the fYRoM (32,517), Serbia (23,248) and Slovenia (3,077). Border closures have required UNICEF partners to shift programming from rapidly delivering interventions to people in transit to sustained services to stranded children and their families. With children residing in the transit centres, diets have been adapted and protection activities have been expanded to meet the different nutritional and psychosocial needs of a static population. In Greece, UNICEF is working with the National centre for Social Solidarity EKKA to provide technical assistance and build national capacities to improve the Greek case management system for unaccompanied children. In Turkey, UNICEF is increasing the capacity of mobile teams to undertake outreach to refugee and migrant children, identifying and providing necessary services. So for over 4,700 at-risk children (including cases of child marriage, separated children and gender-based violence) have been reached. The provision of basic supplies to protect children transiting through the Balkans during the European winter contributed to meeting children’s basic needs.

Funding requirements

UNICEF has revised its budget for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe to US$31.4 million – a slight increase from the initial $30.8 million – to reflect the shifting needs of children and women across Europe in 2016. This has largely necessitated shifting resources from the Western Balkans, following border closures, to Greece and Turkey, where the majority of children and women remain. This includes resources to support governments in destination countries as well as preparedness efforts in countries without specific budget lines but where irregular movements continue. In addition, it covers regional capacity to support UNICEF across different country contexts. These requirements are complementary to those in the Humanitarian Action for Children appeals for the Syrian Arab Republic and Syrian Refugees.

Revised requirements by sector

1 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, revised RRMRP 2016- (Turkey200,000+Greece100,000+Hungarain border12,600+Balgarian border2,800+West Balkan countries 6,300)
2 The total affected population figures, reflected in RRMRP, do not include the population already reached in Germany- all the rest of the figures include children in countries of destinations, including Germany.
3 Ibid.
4 UNICEF targeted children and women also include, stranded population, those arriving through irregular routes, those already reached in Balkan countries when they were on the move during Jan-March 2016
5 The funds received (US$19.4 million) include US$11.1 million carry forward from 2015
6 At this stage this target represents only Germany
7 This is an indirect target to be reached through training and therefore is not included in the total number of children to be reached by UNICEF
8 UNICEF will provide vaccines and technical support to the government to conduct vaccination campaigns