The refugee and migrant crisis

One third of the refugees and migrants who have arrived in Europe are children. UNICEF is responding to the needs of all uprooted children at every stage of their journey, urging governments to protect their rights.

Children playing in mother and baby corner
UNICEF Serbia/2018/Pancic


Despite the de-facto closure of the Balkan route in early March 2016, a constant stream of refugees and migrants continues to arrive in the Republic of Serbia – mainly from Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina – with strong support from cross-border smuggling and trafficking networks.

Throughout 2018, the monthly number of stranded refugees and migrants in Serbia fluctuated around 4,000.

However, UNICEF and partners estimate that in 2019 around 18,000 people in need will transit through Serbia – one in three being a child.

Refugee and migrant children – some travelling with their families, some alone – risk everything, even their own lives, in search of a better life.

When entering the country, women and children on the move are physically exhausted, psychologically traumatized, and many need medical and protection assistance.

Refugee and migrant children, and women, are accommodated in collective centres that provide basic needs; however, they have limited access to safe places to rest and thrive, receiving only irregular specialized and community-based psychosocial support.

Referral to specialized services, including for sexual violence, is limited, and children face several linguistic, cultural and social barriers to access them.

The needs of adolescent girls and boys have also largely been unmet up to now.

UNICEF and partners estimate that in 2019 around 18,000 people in need will transit through Serbia – one in three being a child.

There are concerns in relation to unaccompanied and separated children (UASC), who require best-interest assessment and determination, and specific support throughout the case management process.

Most children attend primary school; however, a smaller number attend secondary or higher education; when it comes to girls those figures drop further.

Finally, nutrition of children, in particular infants, is still an area of concern.

Children playing at a reception centre in Banja Koviljaca
UNICEF Serbia/2017/Vas


UNICEF works with the Government of Serbia and partners to meet children’s immediate needs, including safety, protection, health care, adequate nutrition and education. 

Child protection

UNICEF’s response focuses on the overall well-being of all refugee and migrant children:

  • identifying the most vulnerable and at risk;
  • referring them to social workers and further specialized care;
  • enhancing competencies of all service providers for quality and timely care;
  • providing meaningful services to UASC.

Gender-based violence

UNICEF implements dedicated programming on gender-based violence (GBV) in emergencies; establishing safe spaces for women and girls, and documenting good practices to ensure that women and girls are at the centre of GBV prevention and response interventions.

GBV and sexual exploitation, including against boys, remains a major concern.


UNICEF supports school administrations, local institutions and partners to enrol and promote regular attendance of refugee and migrant children in Serbian schools, and promotes non-formal education activities.

These activities help children to develop key skills for life-long learning, which will help them when they enroll into school either in Serbia, or in their countries of destination or origin.

In 2019, dedicated efforts are being made in evaluating learning outcomes, engaging parents, and ensuring secondary school enrolment and retention, especially for UASC and girls.

Health and nutrition

UNICEF’s response supports nutrition and health services to mothers and babies through Mother and Baby Corners, and plays a pivotal role in providing technical support on nutrition and early childhood development to other institutions and actors.

In mother-and-baby corners, women breastfeed their babies in privacy and if needed, prepare and provide age-appropriate food for their children and are referred to health services if needed.

In child-friendly spaces children rest, play and receive psychosocial support by qualified professionals who can best understand and respond to their needs.

Mother breastfeeding her baby at a mother and baby corner
UNICEF Serbia/2018/Vas

UNICEF's integrated approach

In 2019, UNICEF focuses on applying an integrated approach: mainstreaming GBV into all programmatic activities; promoting joint and integrated capacity development initiatives; and advocating that all child rights are comprehensively respected and fulfilled in line with the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC).

UNICEF provides advocacy, technical assistance and protection guidance to a variety of stakeholders (frontline NGOs as well as institutions).

UNICEF plays a paramount role in the coordination of the Child Protection Working Group, supporting the GBV Working Group, as well as in leveraging and advocating with other agencies to allocate resources and implement initiatives in protection.

In the education, health and nutrition sectors, UNICEF Serbia is a technical essential actor, disseminating guidance and acting as a technical resource and knowledge management hub to partners and institutions.