Five-fold increase in number of refugee and migrant children traveling alone since 2010 – UNICEF

Ahead of G7, UNICEF urges world leaders to adopt six-point action agenda to keep refugee and migrant children safe

“He said to me if I didn’t sleep with him he would not bring me to Europe. He raped me.” – Mary, 17-years-old from Nigeria

NEW YORK, 17 May 2017 – The global number of refugee and migrant children moving alone has reached a record high, increasing nearly five-fold since 2010, UNICEF said today in a new report. At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in the combined years of 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010 and 2011.

‘A Child is a Child: Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation’ presents a global snapshot of refugee and migrant children, the motivations behind their journeys and the risks they face along the way. The report shows that an increasing number of these children are taking highly dangerous routes, often at the mercy of smugglers and traffickers, to reach their destinations, clearly justifying the need for a global protection system to keep them safe from exploitation, abuse and death.

“One child moving alone is one too many, and yet today, there are a staggering number of children doing just that – we as adults are failing to protect them,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth. “Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution. It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from these predators.”

The report includes the story of Mary, a 17-year-old unaccompanied minor from Nigeria, who experienced the trauma of being trafficked firsthand during her horrific journey through Libya to Italy. When describing the smuggler turned trafficker who offered to help her, she said, “Everything (he) said, that we would be treated well, and that we would be safe, it was all wrong. It was a lie.” Mary was trapped in Libya for more than three months where she was abused. “He said to me if I didn’t sleep with him he would not bring me to Europe. He raped me.”

Additional key findings from the report include:

  • 200,000 unaccompanied children applied for asylum across around 80 countries in 2015-2016.
  • 100,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2015-2016.
  • 170,000 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in Europe in 2015-2016.
  • Unaccompanied and separated children accounted for 92 per cent of all children arriving to Italy by sea in 2016 and the first months of 2017.
  • Children account for approximately 28 per cent of trafficking victims globally.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America and the Caribbean have the highest share of children among detected trafficking victims at 64 and 62 per cent respectively.
  • As much as 20 per cent of smugglers have links to human trafficking networks.

Ahead of the G7 Summit in Italy, UNICEF is calling on governments to adopt its six-point agenda for action to protect refugee and migrant children and ensure their wellbeing.

“These children need a real commitment from governments around the world to ensure their safety throughout their journeys,” said Forsyth. “Leaders gathering next week at the G7 should lead this effort by being the first to commit to our six-point agenda for action.”

The UNICEF agenda for action includes:

  1. Protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence;
  2. End the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating, by introducing a range of practical alternatives;
  3. Keep families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status;
  4. Keep all refugee and migrant children learning and give them access to health and other quality services;
  5. Press for action on the underlying causes of large scale movements of refugees and migrants;
  6. Promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization in countries of transit and destination.

UNICEF is also urging the public to stand in solidarity with children uprooted by war, violence and poverty, by supporting the six-point agenda for action.

Nearly 50 million children “uprooted” worldwide – UNICEF

28 million forcibly displaced by conflict and violence within and across borders

Across the globe, nearly 50 million children have been uprooted – 28 million of them driven from their homes by conflicts not of their making, and millions more migrating in the hope of finding a better, safer life. Often traumatized by the conflicts and violence they are fleeing, they face further dangers along the way, including the risk of drowning on sea crossings, malnourishment and dehydration, trafficking, kidnapping, rape and even murder. In countries they travel through and at their destinations, they often face xenophobia and discrimination.

A new report released today by UNICEF, Uprooted: The growing crisis for refugee and migrant children, presents new data that paint a sobering picture of the lives and situations of millions of children and families affected by violent conflict and other crises that make it seem safer to risk everything on a perilous journey than remain at home.  

“Indelible images of individual children – Aylan Kurdi’s small body washed up on a beach after drowning at sea or Omran Daqneesh’s stunned and bloody face as he sat in an ambulance after his home was destroyed – have shocked the world,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “But each picture, each girl or boy, represents many millions of children in danger – and this demands that our compassion for the individual children we see be matched with action for all children.”

Uprooted shows that:

  • Children represent a disproportionate and growing proportion of those who have sought refuge outside their countries of birth: they make up about a third of the global population but about half of all refugees. In 2015 around 45 per cent of all child refugees under UNHCR’s protection came from Syria and Afghanistan.
  • 28 million children have been driven from their homes by violence and conflict within and across borders, including 10 million child refugees; 1 million asylum-seekers whose refugee status has not yet been determined; and an estimated 17 million children displaced within their own countries – children in dire need of humanitarian assistance and access to critical services. 
  • More and more children are crossing borders on their own. In 2015, over 100,000 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in 78 countries – triple the number in 2014. Unaccompanied children are among those at the highest risk of exploitation and abuse, including by smugglers and traffickers. 
  • About 20 million other international child migrants have left their homes for a variety of reasons including extreme poverty or gang violence. Many are at particular risk of abuse and detention because they have no documentation, have uncertain legal status, and there is no systematic tracking and monitoring of their well-being – children falling through the cracks.
Kueth Tney,13, Nyamuoch Gatdet, 9 and Nyatayin Both, 25, (from left to right) victims of the abduction during a deadly cross border raid on 15 April.
Kueth Tney,13, Nyamuoch Gatdet, 9 and Nyatayin Both, 25, (from left to right) victims of the abduction during a deadly cross border raid on 15 April ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

According to Uprooted, Turkey hosts the largest total number of recent refugees, and very likely the largest number of child refugees in the world. Relative to its population, Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees by an overwhelming margin: Roughly 1 in 5 people in Lebanon is a refugee. By comparison, there is roughly 1 refugee for every 530 people in the United Kingdom; and 1 for every 1,200 in the United States. When considering refugee-host countries by income level, however, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, and Pakistan host the highest concentration of refugees. 

The report argues that where there are safe and legal routes, migration can offer opportunities for both the children who migrate and the communities they join. An analysis of the impact of migration in high-income countries found that migrants contributed more in taxes and social payments than they received; filled both high- and low-skilled gaps in the labour market; and contributed to economic growth and innovation in hosting countries.

But, crucially, children who have left or are forcibly displaced from their homes often lose out on the potential benefits of migration, such as education – a major driving factor for many children and families who choose to migrate. A refugee child is five times more likely to be out of school than a non-refugee child. When they are able to attend school at all, it is the place migrant and refugee children are most likely to encounter discrimination – including unfair treatment and bullying.

Outside the classroom, legal barriers prevent refugee and migrant children from receiving services on an equal basis with children who are native to a country. In the worst cases, xenophobia can escalate to direct attacks. In Germany alone, authorities tracked 850 attacks against refugee shelters in 2015. 

“What price will we all pay if we fail to provide these young people with opportunities for education and a more normal childhood? How will they be able to contribute positively to their societies? If they can’t, not only will their futures be blighted, but their societies will be diminished as well,” Lake said. 

The report points to six specific actions that will protect and help displaced, refugee and migrant children:

  • Protecting child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence.
  • Ending the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating by introducing a range of practical alternatives.
  • Keeping families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status.
  • Keeping all refugee and migrant children learning and giving them access to health and other quality services.
  • Pressing for action on the underlying causes of large-scale movements of refugees and migrants.
  • Promoting measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization.

Ethiopia has a long history as both a sender and receiver of refugees, and its location in the Horn of Africa places it at the centre of one of the largest refugee-generating areas in Africa today. As of 1 July 2016, the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported a total of 741,288 refugees living in Ethiopia, of which nearly 60 per cent (57.2 per cent) are children. This is an increase of more than 600,000 since 2009 with the majority from South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea. The volatility of this influx has put significant pressure on the government capacity to provide basic social services in affected areas. Host communities and refugees alike suffer from limited social services, including lack of schools, overstretched health facilities, shortage of water and sanitation facilities.