Migrant and displaced children are children first
Millions of children are on the move. Some are driven from their homes by conflict, poverty or climate change; others leave in the hope of finding a better life. Far too many encounter danger, detention, deprivation and discrimination on their journeys, at destination or upon return.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The suffering and exclusion of migrant and displaced children is not only unacceptable, but also preventable. A child is a child, no matter why she leaves home, where she comes from, where she is, or how she got there. Every child deserves protection, care and all the support and services she needs to thrive.
Yet, too often migrant and displaced children face numerous challenges in transit, at destination and upon return, often because they have few – or no – options to move through safe and regular pathways whether on their own or with their families. These include violence, abuse, exploitation or discrimination. They miss out on education and proper medical care, and don’t find it easy to feel at home in the communities they arrive in; trying to learn a new language and integrate into a new culture can make things especially hard. These difficulties have lasting physical and psychological effects and prevent children on the move from reaching their full potential.
Uprooted Children and COVID-19
The spread of COVID-19 poses yet another threat to uprooted children. Even without a pandemic, migrant, refugee and internally displaced children are regularly confronted with threats to their safety and well-being. But the frequently cramped conditions many of them live in – with limited access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) – make them particularly vulnerable to the immediate and secondary impacts of infectious diseases like COVID-19.
Migrant workers, refugees and their families often live in the most disadvantaged urban areas, where access to essential services is already limited – services under even heavier strain as COVID-19 spreads. Migrant and refugee children can also be confined to detention centres, live with disabilities, or be separated from their families, making them difficult to reach with accurate information in a language they understand.
Compounding all this, misinformation on the spread of COVID-19 exacerbates the xenophobia and discrimination that migrant and displaced children and their families often already face. Read UNICEF’s agenda for action on COVID-19.
Children should be safe from violence and be able to grow up with their families. They shouldn’t have to miss school or be scared to visit the doctor. They shouldn’t be discriminated against because of where they come from . They should be able to feel at home – wherever they find themselves and wherever home is.
Children around the world, regardless of where they are from and why they have left their homes, should be treated the same
UNICEF works around the world to make sure migrant and displaced children and their rights are protected. We provide lifesaving humanitarian supplies in refugee camps. We run child-friendly spaces – safe places where children on the move can play, where mothers can rest and feed their babies in private, where separated families can reunite. We support national and local governments to put in place laws, policies, systems and services that are inclusive of all children and address the specific needs of migrant and displaced children, helping them thrive.
UNICEF also collects, analyses and disseminates data and gathers evidence about the situation and individual experiences of children and young people on the move. We help keep families together. We work to end child immigration detention by helping governments put in place alternative community- and family-based solutions. We work with governments, the private sector and civil society. We empower children and youth on the move with cutting-edge solutions, partnering with them and making their voices heard.
The solutions exist, and they’re attainable. Learn more about our Agenda for Action to support children on the move.
The Global Refugee Compact
The Global Refugee Compact is an international agreement that sets the building blocks for a stronger, more predictable and more equitable international response to large refugee situations. The Compact, adopted in 2018, gives the international community and host countries a roadmap to better include refugees in national systems, societies and economies, to enable them to contribute to their new communities and to secure their own futures. The four key objectives of the Compact are: to ease pressures on host countries; increase refugee self-reliance; expand access to resettlement and other solutions; and support conditions in countries of origin for refugees to return in safety and dignity.
UNICEF is strongly committed to the Global Compact on Refugees and is working to help reach its objectives. We have documented good practices from our work around the world in support of refugee children and young people, as well as those of host communities.
The Global Compact for Migration
The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is a landmark agreement that for the first time recognizes that children are central to migration management. It shows that UNICEF’s six-point Agenda for Action is doable and provides a framework to bring it to life. UNICEF actively participated in the 18 months of negotiations that led to the final document – including by facilitating the active participation of young migrants in this process. The Compact was adopted at an intergovernmental conference in Marrakech, Morocco, in December 2018. UNICEF is working to translate the commitments that governments agreed to in the Compact document into real change and positive impact in the lives of children on the move
Stories of migrant and displaced children
Help UNICEF protect and provide for migrating children
Migrant, refugee, returnee and internally displaced children not only experience the direct and immediate impacts of COVID-19 and its socioeconomic fall-out, but they are also too often excluded from prevention, response and recovery efforts. This compilation highlights some of the promising and emerging practices being implemented by UNICEF and partners around the world.
This “best practices” guide was developed as part of UNICEF’s initiative to build the capacity of organizational leaders, field staff and volunteers who support the mental health and psychosocial needs of refugee and migrant children and their families at the border of the United States and Mexico.
Published as a contribution to the Migration Policy Practice, this paper focuses on the impact of COVID-19 on migrant and displaced children. The pandemic creates an additional layer of challenges for poor and rich countries alike, impacting their health, education, protection and overall well-being. The paper provides concrete examples demonstrating how uprooted children can be protected in the time of COVID.
This report illustrates how in many countries around the world, internally displaced children persistently lack access to basic services, such as the right to education, health, protection and non-discrimination. The report provides detailed recommendations and examples of how to ensure internally displaced children’s protection, and how best to provide them with a fair chance in life.
This document contains quick tips for decision-makers and practitioners working on the response to the COVID-19 crisis in countries with migrant, refugee or internally displaced children and families. It provides practical guidance at a glance about the type of things that need to be done to ensure that these children are fully considered when preparing and responding to COVID-19.
This working paper explores the huge numbers of migrant and displaced children who are out of school, and how access to quality inclusive education brings major economic, social and health benefits to countries
and communities of origin and destination.
More than half of the world’s refugees are children, but displacement should not prevent any child from exercising their rights or achieving their full potential. This booklet explores some of UNICEF’s most successful programmes to support refugee girls and boys all over the world, bringing the Global Compact on Refugees to life.
Stronger hurricanes are devastating communities, uprooting lives and putting children and their families at risk. This child alert takes stock of the link between a changing climate, extreme weather events and the forced displacement of children and families in the Caribbean Small Island Developing States.
This paper explores the Global Programme Framework, which builds on existing UNICEF programming on migration, adjusts it to cover identified gaps, increase coherence and establish priorities and guiding principles, and provides guidance on UNICEF's work on global migration.
Many European governments increasingly seek to return migrant children to their countries of origin or transit, but this is often not undertaken in full accordance with international obligations on children’s rights, nor with respect for children’s best interests. This report highlights the human rights obligations and commitments of four governments.
Millions of children are “left behind” by one parent or both parents migrating to find work, continue their studies, or seek a better life. This UNICEF working paper argues that the link between child well-being, labour and migration policies needs to be clearly established to ensure children “left behind” can reach their full potential.
Immigration detention of children is never in their best interests, is a violation of their rights, and should be avoided at all costs. This UNICEF working paper looks at the negative effects of detention on children and offers recommendations for prevention.
All children, regardless of their or their parents’ refugee, temporary protection or migration status, have the right to grow up with their families. This working paper looks at why family unity needs to be at the heart of political negotiations.
Urban displacement has emerged as a new challenge in meeting the needs of internally displaced children. This report looks at key challenges on the issue.
Too many internally displaced children grow up deprived of an education and the long term opportunities it affords. This report looks at some of the challenges and offers recommendations.
More international migrants move within Africa than beyond the continent. This brochure has the latest figures on migrant and refugee populations within Africa.
By coalescing efforts and investments around the African Agenda for Action for Children and Young People Uprooted, African leaders, civil society, the private sector, multi-lateral partners and young people themselves can unlock and harness the enormous potential that lies in Africa’s children and young people.
As part of a poll conducted in September and October 2018 by UNICEF through U-Report, a social messaging tool for young people, migrant and refugee children provided insights into their experiences leaving their homes.
Recommendations for concrete actions that local actors can take – and are already taking – to advance the rights of every refugee, migrant and IDP child living under their jurisdiction.
Every day, children and families from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico leave their homes and communities to set off on the perilous journey northward. They risk their lives for the promise of a better future.
Protecting children on the move starts with better data. Read more about how UNICEF proposes better data on children.
UNICEF paints a global and regional picture of the lives of millions of children and families affected by migration.
Children and youth on the move across the Mediterranean Sea, at risk of trafficking and exploitation.
In this report that compiles good practices and solutions, UNICEF shows that protecting migrant and displaced children is right in principle and practice.