Unaccompanied children on the move: far from home, far from their destination

They haven’t felt the warmth of home and their family for years. They are still children, yet they are tired of moving on.

Radio Sarajevo for UNICEF
Dječaci bez pratnje u izbjeglištvu: daleko od kuće, daleko od cilja
UNICEF/Kuburovic

26 April 2019

They have thousands of kilometres behind them. They haven’t felt the warmth of home and their family for years. They are still children, yet they are tired of moving on.

They are children on the move.

Nevenka Lukin, Coordinator for the Una-Sana Canton, says: “It was UNICEF, when it arrived to the Una-Sana Canton, that identified the most vulnerable groups, and it is definitely unaccompanied minors, that is, unaccompanied children”.  

UNICEF managed to promptly organise a system to support this vulnerable group, in cooperation with Save the Children, through the project implemented by IOM and funded by the European Union.

The temporary Reception Centre Bira in Bihać was the first in Bosnia and Herzegovina to establish a special department for unaccompanied minors, with more than 200 registered so far.

They are accommodated in 6-bed containers equipped with power, heating, clean sheets, showers. They have three meals a day and their basic needs are met.

Lejla Hafizović, social worker from Social Welfare Centre Bihać says: “The accommodation includes initial medical exam, support if they want to join their families, if some of them have relatives in other countries and similar, depending on the minor and their current circumstances. Once we meet their basic needs, we move on to psychosocial support”.

Dječaci bez pratnje u izbjeglištvu 2
UNICEF/Kuburovic

There is a team of child protection officers taking care of the boys 24/7. The boys have access to the internet so they could stay in touch with their relatives and friends. They can socialise, spend their free time to hang out with their peers.

“Let us not forget how far they have travelled. Although they seem open, tough, and ready to handle it all, to try to cross another border every other day, they are still children. It shows when you ask them to draw something – you expect to see a drawing by a young man, but it’s a drawing of a child”, says Nevenka Lukin.  

Why did those boys leave their family homes, what made them take the difficult journey of several years?

Alma Pezerović, Save the Children Coordinator for the Una-Sana Canton claims: “Unaccompanied children currently residing here mostly come from Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are some from Iraq and Syria as well. They are of age when they can be enlisted to join the army, which is what they don’t want to do, they refuse it. The only way to avoid it is to flee, to leave the country. Their families are often poor, lacking the means to provide for the entire family to leave the country. That is why they decide to send their children away on their own“.

To be informed about these reasons is how to fight prejudice regarding migrants passing through our country.

They dream of having a normal life, of going back to school, of finding a job one day. Just like any other young person, they want to choose for themselves.

“Just recently, we had an opportunity to take the boys with the local children to the movies, and they also visited the Una National Park. I was moved when a boy said it was the first time he felt equal to the others. If only one child was made to feel that way, the goal of the visit was achieved. It was not only about taking them somewhere, but about giving them an opportunity to spend some time with children of their own age, to make friends, to conceive the possibility of staying here and having a future. Maybe they haven’t thought about that yet. Our next move is to include them in formal education, for some of them wish to go back to taking classes and learning. We will make it possible for them, why not. Let them see there are other options in life”, Nevenka Lukin, UNICEF Coordinator for the Una-Sana Canton concludes.  

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Radio Sarajevo for UNICEF

UNICEF’s humanitarian response aims to ensure that all migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee children have access to adequate and safe accommodation, child protection support, education and health.  It’s a close cooperation with BiH institutions (social welfare centres, schools, and healthcare institutions), other UN agencies (IOM, UNHCR, UNFPA and WHO), as well as partner organisations (DRC, Save the Children, SOS Child Villages, World Vision and Žene s Une – Women of Una). The Project is implemented by the IOM, and funded by the European Union with the amount of 7.2 million Euros.

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Production of this article was funded by the European Union. UNICEF is exclusively responsible for published content, which may differ from the official opinion of the European Union.