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.
Tackling sexual exploitation and abuse of children: Actions and commitments
– “Sexual exploitation and abuse of children under any circumstances is reprehensible. No organization is immune from this scourge and we are continuously working to better address it. When it comes to the protection of children, we are determined to act. There is no room for complacency. “As UNICEF’s Executive Director, I have put this issue at the top of our agenda and we are committed to strong action and transparency within UNICEF. “To make sure we are doing everything possible, we are commissioning an independent review of our procedures and I will make its recommendations public. “My team is also exploring ways to use technology to quickly assess the risks of sexual exploitation of abuse, and facilitate safe and confidential reporting by the victims. “Starting in locations where the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse is higher, we are implementing more stringent vetting of all personnel and improving safety and protection around children in our operations. “These new measures add to the strong and determined actions we have taken over the years to prevent the abuse of children and respond to the needs of those affected, building on the lessons we have learned and a regular assessment of our approaches: We have made the reporting of sexual exploitation and abuse mandatory, through a notification alert that reports information to me within 24 hours. We have scaled up our assistance to victims and are providing them with safe and confidential support; We are rolling-out community-based complaint mechanisms; We have strengthened our investigations unit; and We have made training on the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse mandatory. “We have zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse, and we remain committed to continually learning and improving. We want justice for the child victims and are determined to work with all partners to achieve it.” Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore.
What we do
UNICEF works with and for disadvantaged children and adolescents in 21 countries and territories across Europe and Central Asia. Our ambition is to get the entire region working together - as one - on behalf of its most vulnerable children. Explore the different areas of our work below. Students, some with disabilities, participate in a UNICEF photography workshop in Azerbaijan Adolescents A mother and her three children in Georgia. The family live in extreme poverty but with UNICEF's support they have managed to stay together. Child poverty A conflict-affected girl takes part in a celebration of the International Children's Day in Svyatohirsk, eastern Ukraine. The event was organized by the Community Protection Centre supported by UNICEF. Child protection Stanislava, 15, lives in a family type placement centre for children with disabilities and attends mainstream school. Children with disabilities A baby and her sister play together in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Early childhood development Children at a refugee centre in Turkey draw on paper at a school Education Kindergarden children practice an emergency response drill at a school in Kyrgyzstan. Emergencies 11-year-old Ajsa is photographed in front of a laptop, with her head in her hands. Ending violence against children A female student attends a networking meeting at a school in Tajikistan. Gender A newborn baby in a hospital in Kyrgyzstan that was entirely rehabilitated by UNICEF. Health A woman loads vaccine into a syringe Immunization Headshot of a Roma girl looking directly at the camera Roma and ethnic minority children
With financial support from the European Union UNICEF launches the ‘RM Child-Health’ project to strengthen vulnerable refugee and migrant children’s health
– Under the Health Programme of the European Union, the Directorate General for Health and Food Safety has committed a project grant to UNICEF to support work ensuring refugee and migrant children and their families have access to quality health care and accurate health information in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Spain, Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia. Refugee and migrant children and their families often have more health-related risks and face a number of barriers accessing quality health care. Many children and families also live with severe emotional distress due to the trauma of fleeing home, undertaking dangerous journeys and experiencing abuse and exploitation, including sexual and gender-based violence. The global COVID19 pandemic further exacerbates these health challenges. “With the ongoing pandemic, protecting every child and adult’s right to health care and accurate heath information is paramount. This collaboration with the EU Health Programme will help ensure the most vulnerable refugee and migrant children will have better access to primary healthcare services, psychosocial support as well as violence prevention and response services,” said UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia and Special Coordinator for the Refuge and Migrant Response in Europe, Ms. Afshan Khan. The project ‘RM Child-Health’ will help improve the health of refugee and migrant children by improving their access to life-saving immunizations, mental health and psychosocial support, gender-based violence prevention and response activities as well as maternal and newborn health care and nutrition support. Information materials on health-related risks and services available for refugee and migrant populations will be created and shared. Medical interpreters and cultural mediators will be deployed to support communication between children and families and health care providers. The project ‘RM Child-Health’ will also support training programmes so frontline health care workers can better respond to the specific needs of refugee and migrant children and their families. In parallel, national health authorities will benefit from technical support to develop, update and improve the implementation of health policies and address bottlenecks in national health systems that currently prevent refugee and migrant children from accessing services. Refugee mother feeding her baby at ADRA community centre in Belgrade. UNICEF/UNI220342/Pancic
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.
UNICEF commemorates 70 years of tireless work for the world’s most vulnerable children
– On the 70th anniversary of its founding, UNICEF celebrates the immense progress made for the world’s children – and renews the urgent call to reach millions of children whose lives and futures are endangered by conflict, crisis, poverty, inequality and discrimination. “UNICEF was founded after World War II to bring help and hope to all children at risk or in need – no matter which country they lived in or what role that country played in the war. Our mission is no less urgent and universal today,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “With so many children around the world in so much need, we are recommitting ourselves to delivering results for every child.” The organization was established by the United Nations General Assembly to help children in post-war Europe, China and the Middle East. Funded entirely through voluntary contributions from governments, civil society, the private sector and concerned citizens, it rapidly expanded its reach and by 1955 was working for children in more than 90 countries. Today, UNICEF is the world’s largest children’s organization, working with partners in 190 countries and territories and through the efforts of 13,000 national and international staff to reach every child. UNICEF’s relentless engagement in the world’s toughest places has helped create remarkable progress for children in recent decades. The number of children dying before their fifth birthdays has been more than halved in the past 25 years. Hundreds of millions of children have been lifted out of poverty. Out-of-school rates among primary-school-aged children have been reduced by more than 40 per cent since 1990. In the 1940s, UNICEF provided emergency nutrition aid, mainly in the form of milk, to children in post-war Europe. In 2015, the organization and its partners treated 2.9 million children for severe acute malnutrition worldwide. In the 1950s, UNICEF led its first immunization campaigns against diseases such as tuberculosis and yaws. In 2015, the organization procured 2.8 billion doses of vaccines, and with its partners helping to protect 45 per cent of children under 5 years old worldwide from a range of deadly diseases. In 1953, UNICEF launched its first water, sanitation and hygiene programmes. Between 1990 and 2015, 2.6 billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources and 2.1 billion gained access to improved sanitation facilities. In 1961, UNICEF expanded its programmatic focus to include children’s education. In 2015, UNICEF and its partners provided 7.5 million children aged 3 to 18 with access to formal or non-formal basic education. In 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which specifies that all children should be registered at birth to establish their identity under the law and thus to safeguard their rights. In 2015, UNICEF supported the registration of more than 9.7 million children’s births in 54 countries. In 1998, UNICEF became a founding member of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership to support malaria treatment and research, and expand prevention measures such as long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets. In 2015, UNICEF procured 22.3 million bed nets to protect children and families in 30 countries. Since its founding, UNICEF has responded to thousands of humanitarian emergencies affecting children. In 2015, UNICEF and partners vaccinated 11.3 million children against measles in countries affected by crisis; provided 4 million children in emergency situations with access to formal or non-formal basic education; and provided psychosocial support for 2 million children caught in conflicts and natural disasters. Despite this impressive progress, millions of children are still being left behind because they live in poverty or in hard-to-reach communities, because of their gender, race, religion, ethnic group, or because they have a disability. Nearly 250 million children are growing up in countries affected by conflict and nearly 50 million children have been uprooted from their homes. “UNICEF’s vision for the next 70 years is a world in which our work is no longer necessary -- a world in which every child is healthy, safe, educated, cared for and protected … and all children can make the most of their potential,” said Lake. “It’s the right thing to do, and the surest path to a better future for us all.”
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.