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Map of refugee and migrant movement in Europe
UNICEF photo: a girl smiles for camera © UNICEF Greece/2018/Solomon A four-year-old girl in Skaramagkas Open Accommodation Site in Athens, Greece, during a UNICEF event celebrating International Day of Friendship.

Refugee and migrant crisis in Europe

In 2019, UNICEF and partners plan for:

children benefitting from quality child protection services in Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina


children enrolled in formal and non-formal education in Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina


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

2019 requirements: US$29,510,501

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Total people in need: 294,0004
Total children (<18) in need: 65,5005

Total people to be reached: 44,6306
Total children to be reached: 35,2307

Mostly from the Middle East, South Asia, East and West Africa, children on the move in Europe have fled conflict, insecurity and deprivation. In 2019, over 35,000 refugees and migrants, a quarter of them children, entered Europe.1 They added to the 2 million refugees and migrants, including 464,000 children who arrived between 2014 and 2018. Turkey continues to host to some 3.9 million people, including 1.7 million children.2 While arrivals through the Central Mediterranean route have decreased, there is a sharp increase on the Eastern and Western Mediterranean routes, significantly worsening the situations on the Greek islands, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in southern Spain. Approximately 42,000 children were living in Greece, Italy and the Western Balkans as of June 2019. Despite progress, refugee and migrant children continue to face heightened risks of violence, including gender-based violence, in countries of arrival, transit and destination. This is largely due to insufficient and sub-standard reception capacities. Access to health and education services remains inadequate, and the shortage of resources threatens gains achieved in enrolling children on the move in public schools, especially in Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Government’s capacity to cater for families with children in Montenegro is also being challenged. Asylum and child protection systems across the region remain ill-equipped and the rising anti-migrant discourse translates into push-backs at the borders. Over 16,500 unaccompanied or separated children registered in Greece, Italy and the Balkans still lack the necessary continuum of care and protection, as national legislation, policies and resource allocation have yet to align with international best practices. These circumstances undermine the capacities of children—accompanied or unaccompanied—to recover from their ordeals, jeopardize their social inclusion, and compromise child rights.

Humanitarian strategy

2019 programme targets


  • 10,000 children benefiting from quality child protection services
  • 5,000 people accessing gender-based violence prevention and response services
  • 17,450 children enrolled in formal and non-formal education, including early childhood education
  • 1,800 adolescent boys and girls reached with participation and empowerment


  • 1,150 unaccompanied and separated children benefiting from quality child protection services
  • 2,250 frontline workers and caregivers trained on child protection and alternative care
  • 2,100 adolescents participating in skills development programmes
  • 3,000 adolescent boys and girls benefitting from enhanced participation


  • 300 children benefiting from quality child protection services
  • 200 people accessing gender-based violence prevention and response services
  • 600 children participating in non-formal education, including early childhood education


  • 1,500 children benefiting from quality child protection services
  • 200 people accessing gender-based violence prevention and response services
  • 500 children enrolled in formal education activities

Bosnia and Herzegovina 8

  • 6,000 children benefiting from quality child protection services
  • 1,500 children participating in nonformal education activities
  • 600 children vaccinated


  • 50 frontline workers and caregivers with improved knowledge and skills on child protection and child health

Regional technical support

  • 9 countries with enhanced preparedness and response capacities related to children on the move9

In 2019, UNICEF will continue to prioritize the needs of children and women on the move in Europe. At the country level, adjustments will be made to UNICEF's response, highlighting the need to improve the reception capacities, which have resulted in child migration detention, and challenges integrating older children into schooling. Combining humanitarian interventions with technical assistance, UNICEF will partner with governments and civil society organizations to address remaining challenges. In camp and urban reception facilities, UNICEF will offer mental health and psycho-social support, case management, referrals and legal aid. Mothers with young children will benefit from dedicated early childhood development, health, nutrition and vaccination programs. Priorities will include the care and protection of unaccompanied children, as well as preventing and responding to gender-based violence. Statutory agencies and civil society organizations will be supported to ensure that unaccompanied and separated children are identified on time, provided with the care and protection required, and that community-based alternatives, guardianship and durable solutions are developed. UNICEF will enhance services for at-risk and survivor women, girls, boys and men through knowledge generation, evidence-based advocacy and capacity development of front-line workers and national actors. Children’s access to education and adolescent skills development, which are critical to social inclusion, will be central to the response.

Through intercultural education and mediation, UNICEF and education authorities will fast track refugee and migrant children's school enrollment. Non-formal education will complement these efforts, offering accelerated learning and addressing the specific needs of children outside of compulsory education. Young people’s engagement will be promoted through life-skills and empowerment programmes. Age- and culturally-appropriate information on children’s rights and entitlements in countries of arrival, transit and destination will be disseminated through platforms such as U-report. Regional capacity to bolster country preparedness and response will be enhanced in a fluctuating environment. Contingency partnership agreements will be established in selected countries to facilitate the delivery of child protection, non-formal education, mother and child health services and child rights monitoring. Earlier investments in the human resources roster will permit fast deployments to most-affected countries. UNICEF will foster coordination around child rights monitoring and case management capacity, including best interest determination procedures, across regions and United Nations agencies. Regardless of their immigration status, the rights of refugee and migrant children will be further promoted through strategic advocacy efforts at the country and regional levels, together with relevant civil society organizations, ombudspersons and governments.

Results from 2019

As of 30 June 2019, UNICEF had US$ 5.5 million available against the revised US$29.5 million appeal (19 per cent funded).3 Another US$ 5.8 million were received from non-emergency funding. Through a national system strengthening approach, UNICEF has reached 310,000 refugee and migrant children with a comprehensive package of services since the start of the response in 2015. In 2019 alone, 7,900 children benefited from mental health and psycho-social support. More than 2,600 of the vulnerable children, including unaccompanied and separated children, were identified and received case management and referrals. UNICEF reached some 2,900 people with gender-based violence prevention and response services, and supported the capacity building of 440 front-line workers. In addition, 1,140 staff in care facilities for unaccompanied children and reception centers across the region were trained on child protection standards. Drawing on UNICEF technical assistance, government partners have amended their child protection legal and policy frameworks and increased their capacities for reception and service provision. This resulted in a national strategy to scale up community-based care for unaccompanied children in Greece and stronger protection safeguards in reception centers across the region. Promoting integration into the public education system, UNICEF helped nearly 18,000 children go back to school and benefit from quality formal and structured non-formal education programs, including early childhood education activities. UNICEF worked with education authorities to make public schools more inclusive and equipped teachers with the required knowledge, skills and technology solutions. Joint monitoring, communication and advocacy work with civil society, ombudspersons and UNICEF National Committees, continue to raise the profile of refugee and migrant children in relevant technical and political forums to advance the realization of their rights.

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Funding requirements

UNICEF is requesting US$29,510,501 million to meet the needs of refugee and migrant children in Europe in 2019. The initial funding requirements were revised in July 2019 to reflect the deteriorating situation for children on the move and the increased needs in Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina and most recently Montenegro. Inadequate funding will hinder the effort to eradicate violence against children and undermine their social inclusion and access to basic services. The response will focus on key interventions that support the integration of children in the most affected countries. To adapt to evolving and emerging situations, UNICEF is requesting flexible funding and including rapid reaction support. In line with UNICEF’s multi-regional approach, these requirements complement those outlined in the Humanitarian Action for Children appeals for Syrian refugees and the Middle East and North Africa, West and Central Africa and Europe and Central Asia regions.

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Requirements by sector

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1 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mediterranean Situation Operational Portal, June 2019.
2 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Turkey, June 2019.
3 Available funds include US$2.1 million received against the current appeal and US$ 3.4 million carried forward from the previous year.
4 This figure is based on the refugee and migrant population present in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Serbia as of November 2018, as well as an estimation of new arrivals in 2019 in these countries. UNHCR, November 2018.
5 Ibid.
6 UNICEF interventions in affected countries mainly target children and women in the areas of child protection, gender-based violence, education, health and nutrition.
7 Annual targets were revised to reflect increased caseload and needs of refugee and migrant children.
8 Ibid.
9 Countries to be provided with regional technical preparedness and response assistance and capacity building include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey.
10 UNICEF has concluded its programmatic presence in Germany as of December 2018, in coordination with the Government of Germany and the German National Committee.
11 Increased funding requirements are due to the increase in arrivals in 2019, coupled with the continuous need to support the Government's capacity to respond to the refugee and migrant situation in the country.
12 Ibid.
13 Funding gap does not reflect non-emergency funds received from the EU to support legal and policy reform, service provision and capacity building.