All over the world, hundreds of thousands of children are forced to flee from war or disaster without the most basic protection of their family. Alone, they take the same routes as others fleeing home, but have to rely on strangers to protect them, or their own ability to get them through challenging situations. When they reach a safer country, they then have to navigate complex procedures to apply for asylum, and often have to endure months or years living in dangerous conditions - but many children are being failed by States and inter-governmental agencies to receive the support and protection they need - and have the right to - in these situations.
Refugee 'hotspots' and unaccompanied children
80% of the world’s refugee population lives in countries neighbouring their home country. This typically means that most refugee host countries are those which are less economically developed, with fewer resources available to support the refugee communities to access their rights.
In Africa, Uganda is home to the most unaccompanied child refugees, with over 41,000 living in refugee camps and settlements. These are children who have fled ongoing conflict in South Sudan and DRC. Kenya has reported 13,200 unaccompanied and separated children, Sudan 11,300, and DRC 9,400.
In Asia, the largest refugee population is from Afghanistan - estimated to be around 2.4 million, with the vast majority fleeing to Pakistan and Iran. Data on unaccompanied Afghan minors still in Asia is extremely difficult to find, but numbers are likely to be high given the overall refugee population. In Bangladesh, data from 2018 suggested that there were 6,000 unaccompanied minors living in Cox's Bazaar refugee camp, which houses the Rohingya population who fled violence in Myanmar. 1 in 2 of these children were orphaned by the violent attacks on the Rohingya.
In Europe, children have been arriving from conflict zones across the Middle East, Asia, and Africa for well over five years. Across the European Union member states, there are an estimated 30,000 unaccompanied refugee children, with the vast majority being housed in Spain and Italy (over 25,000), usually having taken the treacherous sea route from North Africa to Europe. Almost every other unaccompanied refugee child in Europe is housed in Greece - with almost 2,000 of them living in a state of limbo on the Greek Islands.
100 Million youth activists are campaigning for the rights of unaccompanied child refugees in different parts of the world, with active campaigns running in Chad, Uganda, and across the European Union.
No Place for a Child: campaigning for the rights of unaccompanied child refugees in Europe
The situation for children currently living in or around the refugee settlements on the Greek Islands has become dire. The formal camps are well over capacity - officially, the camps on the islands can accommodate 6,000 people, but almost 40,000 refugees are crowded into and around these spaces. Many children cannot secure a place in specialised accommodation for unaccompanied children, and are forced to face unsanitary and dangerous conditions, with large numbers of children sleeping in makeshift shelters or even outdoors. At present, there are over 1,800 unaccompanied children living on the Greek islands, with that number likely to increase in the coming weeks and months.
For anyone living in these conditions, of any age, the threat of COVID-19 is exacerbating their situation. It has been widely reported that the average amount of taps for the refugee population on the Greek Islands is 1 per 1,300 people. For a child on their own, who does not have the protection of adequate and appropriate accommodation, and who may not understand how to protect themselves during the pandemic, the situation is extremely concerning.
Europe is home to some of the world’s richest countries, and their lack of action to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable children on its doorstep is abysmal. The urgent needs of refugee children, particularly those living without the protection of family and with the threat of COVID-19, must be met by these countries with wealth and resources.
What you can do
Even during the pandemic, youth activists can still take action to campaign for unaccompanied refugee children by contacting their decision-makers and asking them to help.
100 Million, along with almost 90 other organisations, is campaigning for unaccompanied refugee children to be immediately relocated to other EU member countries, now more than ever given the current global pandemic. You can download the joint statement on the situation below.
So far, the following countries have pledged their support to relocate unaccompanied minors from the Greek islands: Germany, France, Finland, Luxembourg and Portugal. We don’t know exactly how many children they will eventually take but current numbers don’t seem to cover the estimated 1,800 unaccompanied minors in urgent need.
Ultimately, EU-member states’ national governments have the power to bring unaccompanied minors to safety from the Greek Islands. For a government to change its position and welcome unaccompanied minors, the most senior ministers need to agree and publicly announce the decision. These senior ministers include those responsible for immigration, health and social care, home/interior affairs, foreign affairs, overseas aid and development, as well as your prime minister/president. Most of us don’t have direct access to these powerful decision-makers, but they can often be reached indirectly through our local decision-makers, including parliamentary representatives.
100 Million has prepared an action pack to help young people who want to campaign for unaccompanied child refugees, as well as a template letter you can use to contact your decision-makers.
Share on social!
The joint campaign has also prepared some social media tools for you to share. You can use these to raise awareness, or to directly target any of your decision-makers who are also on social media by tagging them in your posts.