Refugee and migrant children risk everything in search of a better life.
Refugee and migrant children – some travelling with their families, some alone – risk everything, even their own lives, in search of a better life, with many heading for Europe. Millions of uprooted families are fleeing their homes to escape conflict, persecution and poverty in countries including Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan.
When children and young people feel they have no choices, no sense of a future, and where there are no safe and legal alternatives for migration available to them, uprooted children will take matters into their own hands, exposing themselves to the risks of exploitation by people smugglers and traffickers.
All children on the move are vulnerable to abuse and other grave forms of violence during and after their journeys. It is estimated that more than one child dies every day along the perilous Central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy.
Turkey is presently hosting almost three million Syrian refugees – the largest refugee population in the world. Almost half are children, and most of those living outside refugee camps lack the essential services, such as education, they need for a safe and healthy childhood.
Children are also living in crisis in eastern Ukraine. After more than three years of conflict 3.8 million people – including 1 million children – continue to require humanitarian assistance and more than 1.5 million people have been forced from their homes. Children face constant risks from indiscriminate shelling and the dangers of land mines and other unexploded ordinance. Vital civilian infrastructure including schools, health clinics and water facilities has been damaged or destroyed, putting hundreds of thousands of children and their families at risk.
In the South Caucasus, there is ever-present risk of renewed fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the control of Nagorno-Karabakh region. The Europe and Central Asia region also has a number of breakaway entities, such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia and Transnistria in Moldova, where child survival and development services can be constrained by limited access for United Nations agencies, including UNICEF.
The risk of communal violence in the Fergana Valley of Central Asia, spanning Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, has eased since violence displaced almost 500,000 people in 2010, but competition for scarce natural resources such as water, pasture and farmland remains a source of friction.
The impact of natural hazards.
The region has always been prone to natural hazards, such as flooding, earthquakes and landslides. And now climate change, rapid urbanization, and population growth threaten progress on child health, education and child protection in some areas.
In 2014, for example, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia experienced the biggest humanitarian crisis since the 1992-1995 war, with floods and landslides affecting 2.6 million people. In 2015, earthquakes in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan damaged thousands of houses and disrupted children’s access to health care and education.
Emergencies threaten a child's sense of security.
Children may account for 50 to 60 per cent of those affected by any emergency. As well as the immediate threats to their survival, emergencies threaten children’s mental health and long-term well-being. A crisis can threaten their sense of security – a fundamental part of childhood – particularly when they experience things no child should experience. They become vulnerable to trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse, while their future prospects are disrupted by the loss of education, health care and economic opportunities.