UNICEF Emergency Response in Hungary
UNICEF’s work in Hungary is centred around delivering critical services for refugee and host-community children
The escalation of the war in Ukraine on 24 February 2022 triggered one of the fastest-growing humanitarian emergencies in recent history, displacing more than 8 million people to neighboring countries, the majority of whom are women and children. Hungary is both a transit country and a destination for people fleeing conflict in Ukraine. As of November 2023, around 5.8 million people entered Hungary. The majority – 3.8 million – arrived through the border with Ukraine and the remaining 2 million arrived through the Hungarian-Romanian border. Among them, over 39.3511 people applied for temporary protection in Hungary.
Central and local government entities, civil society, faith-based organizations and the general public have shown solidarity and provided vital support for refugees arriving from Ukraine.
UNICEF Emergency Response Office in Hungary was established in March 2022 with the aim of assisting central and local level government and civil society partners with their response to the increasing needs of refugees. In October 2022 a Joint Declaration was signed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary to enable UNICEF to set up an Emergency Response Office led by an Emergency Coordinator and to provide joint support to refugees fleeing Ukraine. This legal commitment was extended for an addition year, signed in July 2023.
UNICEF’s programme in Hungary focuses on strengthening national and local level capacities to provide critical services to refugee and vulnerable Hungarian children. Support includes access to early childhood development services, education, healthcare, child protection, social protection services, adolescent development, mental health and psychosocial support. To carry out this work, UNICEF has signed four partnership agreements with local governments and 10 partnership agreements with civil society, including faith-based organizations.
On 26 September 2023, UNICEF Refugee Response Office signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Hungarian Ministry of Interior focusing on strengthening child protection, child welfare, education, anti-trafficking and health related services for refugee children.
Emergencies are complex and unpredictable, necessitating a sustained, agile, and effective response to massive needs. As the war continues, people’s displacement becomes protracted, displacement flows shift, and the needs of affected children and their families evolve. Based on the evolving situation and continuation of refugees arriving following the destruction of the Kakhovka dam and further deterioration of the security situation, UNICEF in Hungary continues to work with the national government, municipalities, civil society organizations and other partners, to reinforce and adapt provision of integrated services, information and protection.
Our programmes in Hungary
Children fleeing war in Ukraine continue to struggle with fear, anxiety and grief associated with loss of loved ones, separation from one or more of their parents, forced displacement from their homes, challenges integrating into new schools and peer networks, including social isolation, bullying, stigma, and overarching uncertainty about the future, amounting to a complete upheaval of their childhoods. Accompanied and unaccompanied or separated children require structured activities to help them overcome the emotional distress. It is of utmost importance to ensure that refugee children are integrated into existing services by the national Child Protection system.
The most vulnerable families with children often reside in sheltered housing and are at heightened risk of violence, exploitation, abuse, trafficking, sexual exploitation, discrimination, and exclusion. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence. Children with disabilities face additional protection and inclusion challenges. Based on the limited available data, a significant proportion of families seeking asylum in Hungary originate from Transcarpathia, and many are from Roma communities.
UNICEF’s child protection programme in Hungary focuses on ensuring that children who have fled war in Ukraine are protected from violence, exploitation and abuse, and can live in nurturing and stimulating family environment. Response to the needs of refugee children and families builds on the existing child protection services and systems already available in-country.
Through multi-sectoral partnerships with civil society organizations, children and their families are referred to local and national child protection services, receive information on the availability of child friendly spaces in refugee accommodation centers, and benefit from needs-based mental health and psychosocial support and case management.
UNICEF also works with the municipalities of Debrecen and Záhony – entry points for refugees in Hungary’s eastern border, Budapest and Győr, to improve the scope and quality of child protection services in the host communities. Through these partnerships, UNICEF has been supporting both refugee and host community children. More than 600 children and caregivers have been supported with mental health and psychosocial services and more than 6,000 have benefitted from access to safe spaces, protection, and support hubs.
UNICEF has increased the capacity of frontline professionals to identify, prevent and respond to the major child protection risks in emergencies, including trafficking, violence against children and gender-based violence. UNICEF has helped strengthen the skills of implementing partners on child safeguarding and prevention of sexual abuse and exploitation.
The UNICEF Refugee Response Office in Hungary is a member of the Ministry of Interior-led NGO Roundtable on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings and has further provided assistance in training law enforcement officers and border police on prevention of anti-trafficking, with specialized focus on child victims.
UNICEF is supporting the national child helpline operator Kék Vonal within the regional partnership with Child Helpline International. UNICEF expects to reach more than 1.3 million children with information about the helpline, more than 4,000 children and caregivers with mental health counselling, and more than 10,000 people with access to safe and accessible channels to report sexual violence and exploitation.
The war in Ukraine has disrupted education for an entire generation of school-age children. The impact of the conflict is compounded by two years of education lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, and more than eight years of war for children in the east of Ukraine. Schools also play a critical role in supporting the mental health of children, managing psychosocial stressors and traumas.
For children fleeing war, schools and early childhood education settings provide a crucial sense of structure and safety. Further, missing out on learning could have lifelong consequences for academic achievement and employability.
Available data shows that only one in three Ukrainian refugee children accesses formal education in Hungary, including early learning. This number is even lower for adolescents accessing formal secondary education.
Challenges in enrolling refugees from Ukraine in the national education system include limited school spaces, materials, and capacity of teachers to manage classrooms with students who speak two or more languages, have different skills levels, or might need specialized mental health support, as well as difficulty in communicating with Ukrainian parents and families.
Inclusion of refugee children from Ukraine into the Hungarian education system is key to ensuring quality education. It also enhances children’s social skills through interaction with peers and supports integration into society.
UNICEF works with a range of national and international partners including municipalities and civil society and faith-based organizations to ensure equitable access to quality education and learning for all Ukrainian refugee children. This includes providing access to specialized training for teachers on child-centered pedagogical approaches, mental health support and inclusive education.
UNICEF’s work in education is implemented in partnership with civil society organizations and the Municipalities of Budapest, Záhony, Debrecen and Győr. Within these partnerships, UNICEF has supported over 9,000 refugee and host community children, including Roma children from Ukraine and Hungary, with non-formal education programmes. This approach facilitates the integration of out-of-school children into formal education and the retention of vulnerable children at risk of dropping out.
In 2023, UNICEF’s programmes will reach more than 35,000 children in refugee and host communities with quality learning and development opportunities, including accelerated learning programs, language programs and early learning and development.
UNICEF and partners have opened 15 Play and Learning Hubs across the country to provide parenting support, early childhood development activities and professional development opportunities for early childhood educators.
UNICEF will continue focusing on facilitating access to learning and education for refugee children from Ukraine through formal and non-formal education, accelerated learning programs, Hungarian language classes and skills building opportunities.
More than 20 months into the crisis, the influx of refugees from Ukraine is putting pressure on the national system, while the solidarity efforts are impacted by drastic inflation rates, rising energy costs and the overall increase in the cost of living, affecting host communities and refugees alike.
People displaced due to conflict face incredible hardships as they lose assets and livelihoods and are unable to plan their future. They might also face additional costs related to enrolling their children into local schools, buying basic learning supplies or warm winter clothes. This is in addition to the soaring prices of fuel and electricity across Europe.
Strengthening the social protection services and increasing access for refugees fleeing war in Ukraine as well as vulnerable families of the host community is critical in building resilience and meeting the most urgent needs of children.
UNICEF Emergency Response in Hungary has set up a cash assistance programme in collaboration with the Municipalities of Budapest and Záhony. It aims to help vulnerable children and families mitigate the loss they have had to endure since fleeing their homes, while allowing them to bridge the period until they find ways to secure sustainable forms of income again. The programme combines one-off unconditional and unrestricted cash assistance with referral to services to help families address the specific needs of their children and facilitate their access to available social services.
As a result of the programme in Záhony, 239 vulnerable households with a total of 374 children received two installments of cash assistance. The programme has also contributed to further strengthening the Municipality’s social protection system and fostering social cohesion.
To assess the impact of the programme and receive people’s feedback, UNICEF, in collaboration with the municipality of Záhony and an independent third-party company, conducted a Post Distribution Monitoring Survey (PDMs). Findings of the PDMs indicated a high level of satisfaction among targeted population with the programme and the importance of the cash allowances to support covering the households’ basic needs. The findings also shed light on the vulnerability status of the targeted population and the need to increase the access of Ukrainian refugees to essential services such as health and education.
In Budapest, the programme has reached over 1,340 Ukrainian refugee households, including 2,340 children with one-time cash assistance. Efforts to reach more Ukrainian refugee households with children are ongoing. Through these interventions, UNICEF is building the capacity of its partners by jointly building registry and vulnerability screening systems, communication strategies, grievance mechanisms and monitoring and evaluation tools.
Access to primary health care including immunization, advice on adequate nutrition and feeding practices for babies and children, and mental health and psychosocial support remains a challenge for refugees in Hungary due to language barriers and limited capacity of national health systems to absorb increasing numbers of patients. It is therefore important to remove bottlenecks that hinder access for Ukrainian refugees to these critical services.
Through the collaboration with the Municipalities of Debrecen and Győr as well as with the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid, UNICEF is supporting local health service providers to ensure regular household visits for early identification of children and women in need for immunization, early childhood intervention and development services, specialized mental health support, health promotion and health education.
More than 2,100 children and women have received UNICEF-support primary health care services and nearly 600 children and women have received secondary and tertiary health care services through UNICEF-supported facilities in Debrecen and Győr.
In December 2022, UNICEF partnered with the Municipality and the University of Debrecen, and the NGO Dorcas Ministries to increase access to health services and promote adequate nutrition and good feeding practices for both refugee and host community families.
By the end of 2023 more than 5,900 infant and young child feeding counseling sessions are expected to be held with parents and caregivers to promote and support proper feeding in Debrecen and other settlements where Hungarian Reformed Church Aid provides services for the most disadvantaged families.
Through the collaboration with the University of Debrecen, UNICEF is procuring a medical container in the Dorcas Ministries accommodation center. The container will be staffed with health professionals, including Ukrainian health workers to provide services such as immunization, early childhood development support, specialized mental health support, health promotion and health education.
Furthermore, as part of the above-mentioned partnership, the Debrecen Health Promotion Center commenced its operations with the support of UNICEF. Within the framework of this partnership, the building underwent renovation, and a wide range of screenings, preventive and developmental services have been introduced to assist both refugees and the host community.