With children now accounting for more than one in three of the tens of thousands of refugees and migrants flooding into Europe, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today voiced concern at the impact recent sub-zero temperatures and snowy conditions were having on them.
The children arriving into a harsh winter in south-eastern Europe are physically exhausted, scared, distressed and often in need of medical assistance, UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac told the regular bi-weekly news briefing in Geneva.
The conditions are exacerbating the poor physical condition of the children, as many lack access to adequate clothing and age-appropriate nutrition, a situation worsened by lack of shelter and inadequate heating in some reception centres, as well as on buses and trains, he said.
The proportion of children amongst refugees and migrants has continued to increase over the past three months. According to national sources, in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the ratio in December was 37 per cent, compared to 23 per cent in September. In Serbia, the figures were 36 per cent in December compared to 27 per cent in September.
In December most children transiting through UNICEF spaces in Serbia were babies, infants and those between five and nine years old. In 2015, more than one million refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean, arriving on Europe’s shores, of which an estimated 253,700 were children, one in four people.
In a press release, UNICEF’s Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe, Marie-Pierre Poirier said that children are particularly susceptible to respiratory infections, digestive problems and diarrhoea. Non-controlled use of baby formula may also seriously affect babies’ health.
UNICEF warned that there remains insufficient cross-border information-sharing and follow-up on the most vulnerable children, mainly d to the speed of the population movement.
Ms. Poirier said UNICEF was engaging with its partners and counterparts to develop contingency plans for population movement slow-downs and an increasing number of people being stranded along the route.
In the past three months, UNICEF and its partners have provided 81,000 children with services in UNICEF-supported winterized child-friendly spaces in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia. In addition, nearly 18,000 babies and infants had received specialized services through UNICEF mother-and-baby care spaces.