Empowering refugee and migrant children to claim their right to health: Improving health literacy
“I have always had to behave ‘like a girl’ and I am not used to being asked for my opinion, but you ask me to say what I think during these workshops.” A 13-year-old girl from Syria describes the impact of empowerment workshops in Serbia Boy is drawing a picture. UNICEF-supported activities for children on the island of Lesvos, Greece The ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative has supported work across five European countries to improve health literacy among refugee and migrant children over the past year. As a result, they and their families have learned about key health issues, about the health services available to them, and how to demand health services as their right. Through its support for health literacy – the ability to find, understand and use information to take care of your own health – the initiative has helped to dismantle some key barriers to health services for refugee and migrant children and their families in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy and Serbia. This 27-month, €4.3 million co-funded initiative, which was launched in January 2020 by the European Union Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, works alongside young refugees and migrants to ensure that they have accurate health information in their own languages – information that reaches them via the channels they use and the people they trust. Importantly, the initiative makes them more aware of their right to health care in these European countries – welcome news for those who have fled from countries where good quality health care is either unaffordable or unavailable. With support from the initiative, UNICEF and its partners first worked with young refugees and migrants to identify gaps in the information available to them and in their own knowledge. This informed the health literacy packages that have been rolled out in all five countries over the past year, spanning a wide range of topics from immunization and nutrition to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and gender-based violence (GBV). The packages themselves have been backed by detailed plans to ensure that their messages reach their audiences and gain real traction. Great care has been taken to ensure that information materials are culturally appropriate, gender sensitive and child-friendly, and that they are suitable for the ages and backgrounds of their audiences. Cultural mediators and interpreters have helped to overcome language and cultural barriers, while materials have been made available in, for example, Arabic, Farsi and Pashto. Activities have often been led by trusted professionals, such as nurses, physicians and psychologists who are already familiar with the needs of refugee and migrant children and their families. Materials have been shared through channels and locations that are well-used by refugees and migrants, including asylum offices, temporary reception centres, health centres, Mother and Baby Corners (MBCs), workshops and discussion sessions, during outreach activities and via social media. As a result, health literacy is now embedded into existing activities with refugee and migrant children and parents across all five countries, and is based firmly on their views and needs.
Conflict in Ukraine
"Before he got hit, Sasha was like a proper child. Now he seems like a grown up. He can tell from the sounds what type of weapon is firing." - 12-year-old Sasha's guardian talking about the changes in him since he was shot in the ankle by a stray bullet. After nearly five years of conflict in eastern Ukraine, 3.4 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance – 60 per cent of them are women and children. Approximately 1.6 million people have been forced from their homes and tens of thousands of civilians have been killed or wounded. The situation is particularly grave for girls and boys living in areas with the fiercest fighting: Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts – within 15 kilometres of the ‘contact line’ – a line that divides government- from non-government-controlled areas. Children face the immediate threats posed by the conflict, and the long-term impact of lost education and trauma. Children living in these areas face grave threats from shelling, landmines and unexploded ordnance. Their lives are also threatened by destruction of vital civilian infrastructure – health centres, schools and water supplies – as a result of the fighting. Millions of people depend on water infrastructure that is in the line of fire. Aleksey washes his face and his missing fingers are highlighted. Aleksey, 14, lost two fingers and a thumb when a discarded shell exploded in his hand. Education – so crucial for a child’s sense of ‘normalcy’ – has been shattered, with more than one in five schools in eastern Ukraine damaged or destroyed. Teachers and psychologists report signs of severe psychosocial distress among children, including nightmares, social withdrawal and panic attacks triggered by loud noises. More than one in four children in Donetsk and Luhansk are thought to need psychosocial support. Few, however, get that support, as the available services are over-stretched and under-funded. “It is extremely painful to recall how we almost died twice. It is hard for us to talk about how we had to leave behind everything we had – a home, a job and friends – so we could stay alive.” - Amina, aged 12, from the village of Mykolaivka in Donestk, now living in Kiev. Immunization coverage has been undermined by a combination of conflict, lack of vaccines and vaccine hesitancy (a reluctance among parents to have their children immunized). The country experienced polio outbreaks in 2015 and is at high risk for polio transmission, according to the Polio Regional Certification Committee.
Safeguarding the health of refugee and migrant children during COVID-19
, the initiative has supported UNICEF’s efforts to improve the immunization process for refugee children and migrants by strengthening the assessment and monitoring process. As a result of such efforts, refugees and migrants have been included in the national COVID-19 Immunization Plan.
Refugee and migrant children in Europe
People have always migrated to flee from trouble or to find better opportunities. Today, more people are on the move than ever, trying to escape from climate change, poverty and conflict, and aided as never before by digital technologies. Children make up one-third of the world’s population, but almost half of the world’s refugees: nearly 50 million children have migrated or been displaced across borders. We work to prevent the causes that uproot children from their homes While working to safeguard refugee and migrant children in Europe, UNICEF is also working on the ground in their countries of origin to ease the impact of the poverty, lack of education, conflict and insecurity that fuel global refugee and migrant movements. In every country, from Morocco to Afghanistan, and from Nigeria to Iraq, we strive to ensure all children are safe, healthy, educated and protected. This work accelerates and expands when countries descend into crisis. In Syria, for example, UNICEF has been working to ease the impact of the country’s conflict on children since it began in 2011. We are committed to delivering essential services for Syrian families and to prevent Syria's children from becoming a ‘ lost generation ’. We support life-saving areas of health , nutrition , immunization , water and sanitation, as well as education and child protection . We also work in neighbouring countries to support Syrian refugee families and the host communities in which they have settled.