Migrant and displaced children
Children on the move are children first.
Millions of children are on the move. Some are driven from their homes by conflict, poverty or climate change; others leave in the hope of finding a better life. Far too many encounter danger, detention, deprivation and discrimination on their journeys, at destination or upon return.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The suffering and exclusion of migrant and displaced children is not only unacceptable, but also preventable. A child is a child, no matter why she leaves home, where she comes from, where she is, or how she got there. Every child deserves protection, care and all the support and services she needs to thrive.
Yet, too often migrant and displaced children face numerous challenges in transit, at destination and upon return, often because they have few – or no – options to move through safe and regular pathways whether on their own or with their families. They may be forced into child labour, pressed into early marriage, exposed to aggravated smuggling, subjected to human trafficking, and put at risk of violence and exploitation or. They often miss out on education and proper medical care, and don’t find it easy to feel at home in the communities they arrive in; trying to learn a new language and fit into a new culture can make things especially hard. These difficulties have lasting physical and psychological effects and can prevent children on the move from reaching their full potential. The challenges have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Children should be safe from violence and be able to grow up with their families. They shouldn’t have to miss school or be scared to visit the doctor. They shouldn’t be discriminated against because of where they come from. They should be able to feel at home – wherever they find themselves and wherever home is.
Children around the world, regardless of where they are from and why they have left their homes, should be treated the same
UNICEF works around the world to help protect the rights of migrant and displaced children. We provide life-saving humanitarian supplies in refugee camps. We run child-friendly spaces – safe places where children on the move can play, where mothers can rest and feed their babies in private, where separated families can reunite. We support national and local governments to put in place laws, policies, systems and services that are inclusive of all children and address the specific needs of migrant and displaced children, helping them thrive.
UNICEF also collects, analyses and disseminates data and gathers evidence about the situation and individual experiences of children and young people on the move. We help keep families together. We work to end child immigration detention by helping governments put in place alternative community- and family-based solutions. We work with governments, the private sector and civil society. We empower children and youth on the move with cutting-edge solutions, partnering with them and making their voices heard.
The solutions exist, and they’re attainable. Learn more about our Agenda for Action to support children on the move.
The Global Refugee Compact
The Global Refugee Compact is an international agreement that sets the building blocks for a stronger, more predictable and more equitable international response to large refugee situations. The Compact, adopted in 2018, gives the international community and host countries a roadmap to better include refugees in national systems, societies and economies, to enable them to contribute to their new communities and to secure their own futures. The four key objectives of the Compact are: to ease pressures on host countries; increase refugee self-reliance; expand access to resettlement and other solutions; and support conditions in countries of origin for refugees to return in safety and dignity.
UNICEF is strongly committed to the Global Compact on Refugees and is working to help reach its objectives. UNICEF has developed a ‘Blueprint for Joint Action’ with UNHCR to renew our common commitment to the rights of refugee children and the communities that host them, and to support their inclusion and access to vital services. The blueprint documents good practices from our work around the world in support of refugee children and young people, as well as those of host communities.
The Global Compact for Migration
The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is a landmark agreement that for the first time recognizes that children are central to migration management. It shows that UNICEF’s six-point Agenda for Action is doable and provides a framework to bring it to life. UNICEF actively participated in the 18 months of negotiations that led to the final document – including by facilitating the active participation of young migrants in this process. The Compact was adopted at an intergovernmental conference in Marrakech, Morocco, in December 2018. UNICEF is working to translate the commitments that governments agreed to in the Compact document into real change and positive impact in the lives of children on the move around the world, including as a member of the UN Network on Migration.
Children uprooted in a changing climate
The climate is changing everywhere, but uprooted children and young people – whether living in protracted displacement, refugee camps, urban slums or bustling mega cities – are among the most exposed to its impacts, with the least access to essential services to build resilience.
Strengthening services and systems for children and young people who move, and ensuring safe migration is an option for children and young people affected by climate change, is essential. After all, safe and productive migration can be an important strategy in helping young people adapt. It is also critical that action is taken to minimize the risk of climate-related displacement, including by reducing global emissions and including children and young people on the move in resilience building efforts.
But children should not be viewed as passive bystanders in tackling these challenges. Children and young people uprooted can also be key agents for change. They have critical skills, experiences and ideas we need to better mitigate and adapt to climate change and must be partners in shaping solutions.
Read more about the impact of climate and UNICEF’s response.
Stories and features
Protecting children on the move during infectious disease outbreaks: Lessons from UNICEF’s COVID-19 response
Taking and Inspiring Action: UNICEF Practices for Children on the Move during COVID-19
Quick tips on COVID-19 and migrant, refugee and internally displaced children
Migrant and displaced children in the age of COVID-19
Social protection for children and families in the context of migration and displacement during COVID-19
Policy and programme resources
Guiding Principles for Children on the Move in the Context of Climate Change
Health and Children on the Move Thematic brief
Alternatives to Immigration Detention of Children
Family unity in the context of migration
Education solutions for migrant and displaced children and their host communities
Migratory regularization as an essential condition for the comprehensive protection of the rights of children in the context of human mobility
Equitable access to quality education for internally displaced children
Protecting and supporting internally displaced children in urban settings
Children Uprooted: What Local Governments Can Do
The Global Programme Framework on Children on the Move
Guidance for assessing the situation of children on the move in a national context
Regional and country resources
Child-sensitive return in Europe
Mental Health and Psychosocial Support for Families at the US-Mexico Border
Child Alert: Children uprooted in the Caribbean
Child Alert: Uprooted in Central America and Mexico
Data Snapshot of Migrant and Displaced Children in Africa
African Action Agenda for #ChildrenUprooted
Uncertain Pathways: How gender shapes the experiences of children on the move
Talent on the Move: Listening to children and young people on the move to unlock their potential
Lost at Home: The risks and challenges for internally displaced children
Action for refugee children: Good practices
A Right to be Heard: Listening to children and young people on the move
US migration programme resources
Field guides and toolkits
In the United States, UNICEF has delivered on its 6-point Agenda for Action for Uprooted Children through training, technical assistance, and advocacy as part of a migratory route-based approach to protection. UNICEF has brought together US-based partners to share promising practices and identify scalable solutions for reception, care, and services built around the best interests of each child. Concurrently, UNICEF has worked to build the capacity of government entities and community-based organizations to support the mental health and psychosocial well-being of migrant and displaced children and families.
To advance these priorities, the following key resources have been developed:
Reception, Care, and Services for Migrant Children and Families in the US:
- Flagship Report: Building Bridges: Reception, Care, and Services to Support Unaccompanied Children in the United States
Issue brief: Four strategies to improve community services for unaccompanied children in the United States
Mental Health and Psychosocial Support: