The European Union and UNICEF launch a programme in the Western Balkans and Turkey to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of children and families

The support will ensure the continuity of core health, child protection and educational services for children and their families

31 March 2021
Girl with a tablet communicator


BRUSSELS/GENEVA, 31 March 2021 – Today, the European Union (EU) and UNICEF announced the start of a €5 million programme to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable children and families in the Western Balkans and in Türkiye. Partnership efforts will provide some 490,000 children and parents with better access to public services that promote early childhood development, education, health, and protection as part of the COVID-19 recovery.

UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, Ms. Afshan Khan, said, “In the Western Balkans and Türkiye, UNICEF’s collaboration with the European Union is intended to safeguard children’s right to education, health, and protection and ensure that national systems delivering these services are more equitable, inclusive and meet the needs of the most vulnerable children and parents. Looking at the period of recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, this programme is intended to contribute to building more resilient systems in these countries.”

“We cannot afford a generation COVID. With this programme we are helping to provide continued access to essential childcare services to almost half a million children and parents. This will include providing digital tools and quality digital content to families in remote areas, supporting the continuation of health and nutrition services, and improving the availably of Early Childhood Development services. This is part of wider EU efforts to support the Western Balkans and Türkiye in their response to the pandemic and lessen the impact it has on the most vulnerable groups,” said Genoveva Ruiz Calavera, Director for Western Balkans, Directorate General for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations.

The EU-UNICEF multi-sectoral programme will strengthen efforts in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Türkiye in order to improve access to core services, introduce new types of support for children and families, and build capacities of frontline workers across sectors.

Financing for the programme is part of the EU’s assistance package for the Western Balkans in response to COVID-19, which currently exceeds €3.3 billion. Team Europe has also made a contribution of €2.2 billion for COVAX, including €1 billion EU funds.

*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSC 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence



Since the onset of the pandemic, UNICEF has been alleviating the impact of the pandemic on the lives of children and families by supporting governments in the delivery of medical supplies and personal protection equipment for health care workers; ensuring essential hygiene supplies for schools and implementing distance learning for children, including pre-schoolers; providing families with counselling on nutrition, breastfeeding, and parenting; making community-based mental health services and psychological support available; and ensuring social assistance for the most vulnerable children.  

The total EU assistance package for the Western Balkans in response to COVID-19 currently exceeds €3.3 billion. This includes immediate support for equipment, and medium and longer-term support to health systems and to businesses through local banks,  macro-financial assistance in the form of loans through the European Investment Bank (EIB) response package, support to vaccine implementation in cooperation with WHO, and support to vulnerable groups, including Roma, women (in particular, survivors of violence), children, returnees, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.

In addition to this financial support, the EU has also enabled all Western Balkans countries to join the EU Joint Purchase Agreement to buy medical countermeasures, and to join the EU Health Security Committee as observers.  

The EU is also one of the strongest global supporters of COVAX, which remains the best vehicle to ensure fair and equitable access to these vaccines and deliver on international vaccine solidarity. Team Europe has contributed more than €2.2 billion for COVAX, including €1 billion from the EU budget. 

Media contacts

Filippo Oggioni
Regional Communication Specialist
Rebekka Perdereau
UNICEF Office for Relations with EU Institutions
Tel: + 32 25 05 01 06 Ext. 106


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

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