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.
The impact of COVID-19
COVID-19 poses yet another threat to uprooted children. The frequently cramped conditions many of them live in make them more vulnerable to infectious diseases like COVID-19, while misinformation on the spread of COVID-19 exacerbates the xenophobia and discrimination many already face.
To reduce the death and disease burden of COVID-19 and ensure a meaningful socio-economic recovery, national strategies – including vaccine rollouts – should include migrant and displaced people. Excluding them not only presents an immediate health risk for communities, but also fuels xenophobia and stigma. Find out more
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.
Uprooted children and COVID-19
Migrant workers, refugees and their families often live in the most disadvantaged urban areas, where access to essential services is already limited – services under even heavier strain as COVID-19 has spread. Migrant and refugee children can also be confined in detention centres, live with disabilities, or be separated from their families, making them difficult to reach with accurate information in a language they understand.
Compounding all this, misinformation on the spread of COVID-19 exacerbates the xenophobia and discrimination that migrant and displaced children and their families already faced.
As governments roll out the COVID-19 vaccines, it is essential that all persons in a country have equitable access – including refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced people and migrants. Inclusive vaccine plans and strategies are essential to reduce the death and disease burden of COVID-19.
Excluding migrants and displaced persons will have long-term consequences for social cohesion and stability. Not only does it present an immediate health risk for communities, but it also fuels xenophobia and stigma that could unleash violence and further exclusion from services. In addition, many migrants are supporting the COVID-19 response at the frontline and play an important role in keeping essential sectors running. They are therefore essential for service continuity and socio-economic recovery from the pandemic.
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 here.