Unaccompanied refugee children share their dreams and despair as they await an uncertain future

New film reinforces calls to accelerate support for unaccompanied and separated refugee and migrant children in Europe

UNICEF/UN0274773/Haviv VII Photo

“You never know if it will be two, three or four months before you leave.” Boubacar*, aged 17.

Link to video on it's hosted site.
UNICEF Europe & Central Asia

The dreams and despair of unaccompanied children in Europe’s Reception and Identification Centres are captured in a short film from UNICEF, reinforcing calls for European governments to move faster to give children the protection and shelter they need. Unaccompanied children in ‘Section B’ at the Reception and Identification Centre in Moria, on the Greek Island Lesvos, recount the horrors that made them flee their homes, their dangerous journeys and their hopes for a future that is, at best, uncertain.

“Most nights I can’t sleep. I’m thinking ‘what will happen to us?’ What will they do? We can’t feel safe.” Ahmad Jan*, aged 16.

Here children wait – and wait – for their new lives to begin, often staying far longer than the 25-day maximum stipulated by Greek law because accommodation on the Greek mainland is full.

Greek authorities and communities have provided support to refugee and migrant children for years, but can no longer cope. There are now more than 1,100 unaccompanied and separated refugee and migrant children in dangerous and overcrowded Reception and Identification Centres on the Greek islands and in the country’s detention facilities – the largest number since the start of 2016.

Unaccompanied and separated refugee and migrant children in ‘Section B’ at the Reception and Identification Centre in Moria in Lesvos, Greece.
UNICEF/UN0274763/Haviv VII Photo
UNICEF/UN0274762/Haviv VII Photo
Unaccompanied and separated refugee and migrant children in ‘Section B’ at the Reception and Identification Centre in Moria in Lesvos, Greece.

The Reception Centre in Moria, originally meant to accommodate 3,100 people, now has more than 8,700 people including 3,000 children. ‘Section B’, including the adjacent area, has room for 160 unaccompanied children, but now has more than 520. The film reveals dedicated but exhausted staff, and children who have limited access to vital services. The stress caused by uncertainty, missing home and family, and the over-crowding and violence can become too much to bear.

“I think, day by day, they lost their minds. Because of that sometimes they cut their hands. I don’t want to be like that.” Morteza*, aged 16.

UNICEF is calling on the Greek authorities to transfer children to adequate accommodation on the Greek mainland as soon as possible. UNICEF welcomes the Government’s recent pledge to prioritize their protection, improve conditions in the Centres and strengthen the asylum system. However, Greece cannot manage alone.

UNICEF urges other EU Governments to show solidarity by:

  • Increasing pledges to relocate unaccompanied and separated children
  • Fast-tracking family reunification for children who have relatives in Europe
  • Increasing funding to accelerate the response in countries with the largest number of refugees and migrants.

Over the past three years, UNICEF has supported more than 60,000 refugee and migrant children and their families in Greece, ensuring that they have access to vital child protection services, including psychosocial support, health care and education. UNICEF is also working with the Ministry of Health, providing 85,000 vaccines to protect refugee and migrant children from diseases. 

*Names changed to protect children.