More than half of the world’s refugees are children, a new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has revealed.
More and more children are crossing borders on their own. Last year, more than 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.
“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,” UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake, said.
“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,” he added.
UNICEF points out in the report that “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.”
Children of refugees and undocumented migrants are more likely to have their rights compromised than other children, including lack of access to health care and education, discrimination, the report said.
Sadly enough, a refugee child is five times more likely to be out of school than a non-refugee child. And 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, the report said.
“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,” Mr Lake said.
The UNICEF report suggests six specific actions that should be taken to 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.