For the first time since the start of the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe, there are more children and women on the move than adult males, says UNICEF.
Children and women now make up nearly 60 percent of refugees and migrants crossing the border from Greece to Gevgelijia in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Children currently account for 36 percent of those risking the treacherous sea crossing between Greece and Turkey. This figure could be higher however as many children do not declare their age until they have reached their destination.
“The implications of this surge in the proportion of children and women on the move are enormous – it means more are at risk at sea, especially now in the winter, and more need protection on land,” said Marie Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe. “Welfare, protection and health systems need to be strengthened at every step of the way so children and women are not exploited or fall between cracks.”
Since June of 2015, when men made up 73 percent of the migration flow, there has been a major spike in the numbers of children and women on the move – accompanied children accounted for one in ten in June 2015 and now account for more than a third of all refugees and migrants.
Although the exact number of unaccompanied and separated children on the move is not known, 35,400 sought asylum in Sweden, mostly young Afghans, while Germany has more than 60,000 unaccompanied adolescents primarily from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
UNICEF has emphasized that all children should be prioritized at every step of the way – they need to be fully informed of their rights to claim asylum and to family reunification in Europe. The best interests of each individual unaccompanied child should be examined before any actions are taken. UNICEF supports the right of all children to family reunification particularly as children living and traveling without family support are in danger of abuse and exploitation by smugglers and traffickers.