UNICEF’s Agenda for Action for Refugee and Migrant Children

UNICEF calls for action to help protect every child uprooted by war, violence and poverty.

10-year-old, Sana, and her family fled the conflict in Afghanistan and are now in Serbia.

UNICEF calls for six actions to protect all refugee and migrant children

Around the world, millions of families are fleeing their homes to escape conflict, persecution and poverty.

There are millions of refugee and migrant children in Europe and Central Asia. For example, more than 72,000 refugees and migrants are stranded in Greece, Cyprus and the Balkans alone, including more than 22,500 children. Turkey is now home to 3 million Syrians, the largest refugee population in the world. 

Many of these children face danger, detention, deprivation and discrimination, and the world must stand up for them.

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Press for action on the causes that uproot children from their homes

Protracted conflicts, persistent violence and extreme poverty and disadvantage drive millions of children from their homes. UNICEF calls for greater efforts to protect children from conflict and to address the root causes of violence and poverty. Such efforts should include increasing access to education, strengthening health and child protection systems and social safety nets, expanding opportunities for family income and youth employment, and facilitating peaceful conflict resolution and tolerance.

In photos: the vast majority of child migrants uprooted by violence, poverty and climate change remain in Africa.

Help uprooted children to stay in school and stay healthy

Many refugee and migrant children miss out on an education – and many lack access to health care and other essential services. UNICEF calls for increased collective efforts by governments, communities and the private sector to provide uprooted children with access to an education and health services, and to shelter, nutrition, water and sanitation. A child’s migration status should never be a barrier to accessing basic services.

Meet Dounia from Afghanistan who is back at school in Greece after a terrifying journey

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Graphic of keeping families together

Keep families together and give children legal status

Children who are travelling alone or who have been separated from their families are more easily preyed upon and more vulnerable to violence and abuse. UNICEF calls for stronger policies to prevent the separation of children from their parents and other family members in transit; and faster procedures to reunite children with their families, including in destination countries. All children need a legal identity and should be registered at birth.

A Syrian mother receives life-changing news that she and her young son will finally see their family again

End the detention of refugee and migrant children by creating practical alternatives    

Detention is harmful to children’s health and well-being, and can undermine their development. UNICEF calls for practical alternatives to detention for all children. Unaccompanied and separated children should be placed in foster care, supervised independent living, or other family- or community-based living arrangements. Children should not be detained in adult facilities. 

Meet 16 year old Lamin, imprisoned in Libya for seven months while trying to reach Europe  

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Combat xenophobia and discrimination

Uprooted children are often victimized by discrimination, xenophobia and stigma – both during their journeys and at their final destinations. We all have a part to play in welcoming uprooted children into our cities and communities. UNICEF calls on local leaders, religious groups, non-governmental organizations, the media and the private sector to combat xenophobia and nurture a greater understanding between uprooted children and families and their host communities. Governments should also set up stronger measures to combat discrimination and marginalization in countries of transit and destination.

Two young boys, one from Syria and the other from Germany, break down barriers with friendship

Protect uprooted children from exploitation and violence

Refugee and migrant children are extremely vulnerable to violence and abuse, and to being preyed upon by smugglers and even enslaved by traffickers. UNICEF calls for more safe and legal channels for children to migrate and to seek refuge. Cracking down on trafficking, strengthening child protection systems and expanding access to information and assistance can help keep children safe. Children and families should never be returned to face persecution or life-threatening danger in their countries of origin.

Meet 17-year-old Joy who fled poverty in Nigeria, but was trafficked into prostitution in Italy

Graphic of exploitation