COVID-19 has led to dramatic reduction in essential services and protection for migrant and displaced children in countries around the world

New survey data show children on the move largely excluded from pandemic response and recovery

18 December 2020

NEW YORK, 18 December 2020 – In countries around the world, migrant and displaced children have been largely excluded from national response and recovery plans to the COVID-19 pandemic and have experienced a significant reduction in access to essential services and care, UNICEF announced today. These findings are based on data collected through a recent UNICEF survey of 159 countries in which it has an operational presence.  
Of the estimated 272 million international migrants globally, 33 million are children, including 12.6 million child refugees and 1.5 million asylum-seekers. Tens of millions more move within their countries – India alone hosts an estimated 93 million internal child migrants. Across the globe, 21.5 million children have been internally displaced due to conflict, violence or disasters.

On International Migrants Day, the UN children’s agency is urging governments to ensure that all vulnerable children – including those living as refugees, migrants or internally displaced – are prioritized in pandemic response and recovery efforts regardless of their status and reached with quality protection, health care, water, sanitation and education services.  
“The results of this survey are a flashing red warning sign that the most vulnerable children are being left on their own to manage the fallout from the pandemic,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “With the right support at the right time, children on the move can contribute invaluable talent to their new homes – skills that countries should leverage to recover from the pandemic. UNICEF calls for more global investment to support these children, and stands ready to work with governments to achieve the positive benefits that migration offers children.”
Some of the more pronounced reductions in services are occurring in countries with ongoing crises like conflict or disaster, where children on the move already faced barriers in accessing health care, clean water and adequate sanitation. According to the UNICEF surveys: 

  • 50 per cent of countries in which UNICEF has active humanitarian operations report a reduction in access to health care among displaced and refugee populations; and 
  • Nearly a quarter of the same countries report a disruption in water, hygiene and sanitation services in refugee or displacement camps. 

More broadly beyond fragile contexts, the survey data show that refugee, migrant and displaced children are not being reached as part of socioeconomic response and recovery efforts. For example: 

  • 58 per cent of UNICEF country offices surveyed report inadequate remote learning options for vulnerable child populations, including those living as refugees, migrants or internally displaced; 
  • 36 per cent report reduced protection services for migrant and displaced children; and 
  • 50 per cent report that refugees and asylum seekers are not covered under new or expanded COVID-19 related government social protection measures. 

UNICEF is also concerned about increasingly negative perceptions and hostility expressed towards children on the move, a trend that is expected to intensify as the socioeconomic crisis generated by COVID-19 worsens and millions of migrants return home to countries with increasing rates of unemployment: 

  • 39 per cent of UNICEF country offices report increased tension against migrant and displaced populations as well as returnees; with this rising to nearly 50 per cent of countries in fragile contexts.  

UNICEF is working with partners to help migrant and displaced populations protect themselves from the pandemic and its devastating socioeconomic impacts. This includes providing accurate, child friendly information on COVID-19 and hygiene practices in a language they understand, ensuring access to hygiene and water supplies wherever children find themselves, and ensuring that migrant and displaced children are not left behind in efforts to guarantee continuous access to education, health, nutrition and child protective services.

Media contacts

Sema Hosta
Chief of Communication
UNICEF in Türkiye
Tel: + 90 312 454 10 10

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