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Concern over health of children on the move during harsh winter - UNICEF

© UNICEF/UN03023/Gilbertson VII Photo
A young girl stands outside a tent at the Vinojug reception centre for refugees and migrants in Gevgelija, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

GENEVA, 19 January 2016 – Children arriving into a harsh winter in southeastern Europe are physically exhausted, scared, distressed and often in need of medical assistance, UNICEF warned.

The recent sub-zero temperatures and sometimes snowy conditions is exacerbating the children’s poor physical condition as many children on the move do not have adequate clothing, or access to age-appropriate nutrition. This has been worsened by the lack of shelter and inadequate heating in some reception centres as well as buses and trains.

UNICEF said the issue was pressing as the proportion of children amongst refugees and migrants – now more than one in three – has continued to increase. According to national sources, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the ratio was 37 per cent in December, compared to 23 per cent in September, while in Serbia, 36 per cent were children in December compared to 27 per cent in September. In December most children transiting through UNICEF child-friendly spaces in Serbia were young children, including babies and infants and those between 5 to 9 years old.

In 2015, more than one million refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean, arriving on Europe’s shores, of which an estimated 253,700 – or one in four – were children. Latest trends show that children now make up 36 percent of the migration flow coming through the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Woman and children now make up 57 percent of the refugee and migrants with the majority from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.*

UNICEF’s Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe, Marie-Pierre Poirier said that children are particularly susceptible to respiratory infections, digestive problems and diarrhea. Non-controlled use of baby formula may also seriously affect babies’ health.

UNICEF warned that there remains insufficient cross-border information-sharing and follow-up on the most vulnerable children, mainly d to the speed of the population movement.

Ms. Poirier said UNICEF was engaging with its partners and counterparts to develop contingency plans for population movement slow-downs and an increasing number of people being stranded along the route.

In the past three months, UNICEF and its partners have provided 81,000 children with services in UNICEF-supported, winterized child-friendly spaces in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia. In addition, nearly 18,000 babies and infants have received specialized services through UNICEF mother-and-baby care spaces. 

In the past month, UNICEF has distributed 13,500 items of winter clothing, blankets, changing mats and baby carriers. In Croatia, 6,000 children received winter gear and a similar number were supplied in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, while in Serbia, nearly 8,000 children received winter essentials.

Over the same period:

  • In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 11,651 women, of whom 803 were pregnant, were assisted. 394 women and 495 children were referred to health services in the last half of December.
  • In Serbia, 2,802 babies were breastfed and/or received age-appropriate food, and 1,508 mothers were provided with counselling and support on child health and nutrition.
  • In Croatia, more than 1,200 babies and infants were attended at the mother-and-baby space, and 352 mothers were provided with breastfeeding support.


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UNICEF promotes the rights and well-being of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF and its work, visit: www.unicef.org

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For further information please contact:
Christophe Boulierac, UNICEF Geneva, +41 79 963 9244, cboulierac@unicef.org
Kristen Elsby, UNICEF Geneva, +41 79 938 8273, kelsby@unicef.org
Sarah Crowe, UNICEF New York, +1 646 209-1590, scrowe@unicef.org




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