New UN support network aims at protecting refugee children

‘We are concerned about the welfare of unaccompanied boys and girls on the move and unprotected across Europe …’

New family service centers are being established to ease the plight of refugee and migrant children in southeastern Europe.
New family service centers are being established to ease the plight of refugee and migrant children in southeastern Europe.
Refugees from Syria wait to gain entry to Austria at the Spielfeld border crossing from Slovenia in November. 2015. @bberwyn photo.
Refugees from Syria wait to gain entry to Austria at the Spielfeld border crossing from Slovenia in November. 2015. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

With women and children making up a growing percentage of refugees and migrants in southeastern Europe, the UN Refugee Agency and UNICEF are setting up special “blue dot” support centers for children and families along the most frequently used migration routes.

In February, women and children made up nearly 60 per cent of sea arrivals compared to 27 per cent in September 2015. The new centers aim to identify and protect children and adolescents traveling alone, and reunite them with family wherever possible, depending on their best interests. Children are especially prone to risks from sickness, trauma, violence, exploitation and trafficking.

Last year, more than 90,000 unaccompanied or separated children registered and applied for asylum or were in care in Europe, mostly in Germany and Sweden. But identifying children in need is challenging. In some countries, young travelers pretend to be adults to avoid being delayed or detained on their journey, exposing them to the risk of exploitation.

In all, the two agencies will open 20 of the new centers within the next three months, as refugee ranks are expected to swell as the weather warms. The first hubs are now operational or about to open in Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia.

“We are concerned about the welfare of unaccompanied boys and girls on the move and unprotected across Europe, many of whom have experienced war and hardship in making these journeys alone,” said UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk. “The hubs will play a key role in identifying these children and providing the protection they need in an unfamiliar environment, where they may be at risk,” he added.

“The lives of children on the move have been turned upside down, they’ve faced turmoil and distress every step of the way. The hubs will offer a level of predictability, certainty, and safety in their uncertain lives, a place where they can get the help and support that is every child’s right. And they will contribute to stronger national child protection systems,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s Special Co-ordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe.

The Child and Family Support Hubs will be clearly identifiable and provide a standardized and consistent basic package of services provided by different organizations, including National Red Cross Societies and NGO partners. However they do not replace the responsibility and obligation of the states to do all they can to support and protect unaccompanied and separated children and to prevent sexual and gender-based violence.

The hubs will be located in selected strategic sites, including border entry and exit points, registration sites, some strategic urban centers as well as through mobile/outreach teams. The services include:

  • restoring family links services provided by the Red Cross and Red Crescent network;
  • family reunification;
  • child friendly space and dedicated mother and baby/toddler spaces;
  • private rooms for counselling;
  • psychosocial first aid;
  • legal counselling;
  • safe spaces for women and children to sleep;
  • outreach social workers;
  • information desk with Wi-Fi connectivity.

Download a map of the Blue Dots:

http://www.unhcr.org/56cf172b6.html

http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/regional.php

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