UNICEF Emergency Response in Hungary
Delivering multi-sectorial services for refugee and host-community children is at the heart of our work in Hungary.
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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. Up until January 2023, 3.8 million people have entered Hungary, either by crossing the border from Ukraine (2.1 million people), or by crossing the Hungarian-Romanian border (1.7 million people). Among them, over 33.000  people have applied for temporary protection in Hungary.
Compassionate Hungarians, central and local government entities, civil society and faith-based organizations have provided extraordinary support and solidarity from the outset.
UNICEF Emergency Response Office in Hungary was established in February of 2022 with the aim of assisting the government and civil society partners with their response to the increasing needs of refugees coming from Ukraine. In October 2022 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary to allow UNICEF to set up an Emergency Response Office led by an Emergency Coordinator.
UNICEF’s programme in Hungary focuses on strengthening national capacities to provide critical services to refugee and vulnerable Hungarian children, including access to early childhood development, education, healthcare, child protection, social protection, adolescent development, mental health, and psychosocial support. To carry out this work, UNICEF has signed 4 partnership agreements with local governments and 6 with civil society, including faith-based organizations.
UNICEF is looking to expand existing partnerships with the central government and forge new ones with civil society organizations that have a legal outsource arrangement with the government in order to respond to the most pressing needs of vulnerable children, including refugees.
Our programmes in Hungary
Available data shows that the majority of refugees currently in Hungary are fleeing the Transcarpathian region, belong to Roma minorities and have limited access to resources and opportunities. The most vulnerable families and 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, while children with disabilities face additional protection and inclusion challenges.
Children fleeing war in Ukraine might experience fear, anxiety and grief associated with loss of loved ones, separation from family, displacement from their homes, isolation, and complete upheaval of their childhoods.
UNICEF’s child protection programme in Hungary ensures 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 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), as well as Budapest and Győr, to improve the scope and quality child protection services in the host communities. Through these partnerships, UNICEF has been supporting both refugee and host community children: over 600 children and caregivers were supported with mental health and psychosocial services and more than 6,000have benefitted from access to safe spaces, protection and support hubs.
UNICEF has also helped improve 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.
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 a safe and accessible channel to report sexual violence and exploitation.
The war in Ukraine has disrupted education for more than five million children. The impact of the conflict compounds two years of education lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and more than eight years of war for children in the east of Ukraine.
For children fleeing war, schools and early childhood education settings provide a crucial sense of structure and safety, and missing out on learning could have lifelong consequences. Schools also play a critical role in supporting the mental health of children, managing psychosocial stressors and traumas.
Available data shows that only one in three Ukrainian refugee children accesses formal education, including early learning. This number might be lower for adolescents accessing formal secondary education.
Challenges in enrolling Ukrainian refugees 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.
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 and Debrecen. Within these partnerships, UNICEF has supported over 1,000 refugee and host community children, including Roma children from Ukraine and Hungary, with non-formal education programs. 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 are developing 12 Play and Learning Hubs across the county 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 and other learning pathways for adolescents.
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, including Hungary.
Access to social protection services for refugees fleeing war in Ukraine is therefore critical to increase resilience and benefit from services that meet their most urgent needs.
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.
Evidence shows that cash transfers allow vulnerable people to meet their essential needs exactly as they prioritize them, paying for goods and services such as rent, clothing, food, school supplies and hygiene products.
As Záhony is located in one of the least prosperous regions of Hungary, UNICEF has extended cash assistance to vulnerable households from the host communities, further strengthening the Municipality’s social protection system and fostering social cohesion.
UNICEF is building the capacity of its partners by jointly building registry and vulnerability screening systems so that refugees have clear information on the selection criteria used and on available channels to raise questions, concerns and grievances.
By the end of 2023, an estimated 4,000 households – both refugee and from the host community – are to be reached through the cash assistance programmes in Budapest and Záhony.
Access to primary healthcare 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 critical health services, immunization, advice on adequate nutrition and feeding practices for babies and children, as well as mental health and psychosocial support.
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. More than 6,800 children, parents and caregivers are expected to be reached with these services by the end of 2023.
Through the collaboration with the University of Debrecen, UNICEF is procuring medical containers in refugee camps. These are staffed with health professionals, including Ukrainian health workers to provide services such as immunization, early childhood development, specialized mental health support, health promotion and health education.