Conditions for refugee children are increasingly desperate

UNICEF estimates that more than half of the world’s refugees are children and one in five babies are born into situations of conflict and crisis.

Many will spend their entire childhoods away from home, sometimes separated from their families. They may have witnessed or experienced violent acts and, in exile, are at risk of abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation, trafficking or military recruitment.

But children are incredibly resilient. By learning, playing and exploring their skills, they can find ways to cope, drawing strength from their families and communities.

As the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) works with national authorities, other international and local organizations to assist, protect and find solutions for displaced children, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The organizations seek to ensure that those who are unaccompanied or separated are cared for and have access to family tracing and reunification services, that new-borns are registered at birth and that children with disabilities are supported.

Through psychosocial support activities and education, UNHCR and UNICEF help children rebuild their lives but the agencies are making grim prognostications.

Conditions for refugee children are increasingly desperate in the third year of the pandemic, as new situations of conflict and crisis endanger them.

Entering a third year of the pandemic, the harm done to children is increasingly evident: A record rise in child poverty. Setbacks to progress on routine vaccinations. Disruption to education for an entire generation. 

That harm has emerged as an unintended side-effect of the world’s efforts to manage the crisis while new conflicts and chaos emerge to make matters worse. 

Nearly 100 days of war in Ukraine have wrought devastating consequences for children at a scale and speed not seen since World War II, said UNICEF.

Three million children inside Ukraine and over 2.2 million children in refugee-hosting countries are now in need of humanitarian assistance. Almost two out of every three children have been displaced by fighting.

Based on reports verified by OHCHR, on average more than two children are killed and more than four injured each day in Ukraine – mostly in attacks using explosive weapons in populated areas.

Civilian infrastructure on which children depend continues to be damaged or destroyed; this so far includes at least 256 health facilities and one in six UNICEF-supported ‘Safe Schools’ in the country’s east. Hundreds of other schools across the country have also been damaged.

Conditions for children in eastern and southern Ukraine where fighting has intensified are increasingly desperate.

“June 1st is International Day for the Protection of Children in Ukraine and across the region,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “Instead of celebrating the occasion, we are solemnly approaching June 3 – the 100th day of a war that has shattered the lives of millions of children. Without an urgent ceasefire and negotiated peace, children will continue to suffer – and fallout from the war will impact vulnerable children around the world.”

UNICEF is also warning that the war has caused an acute child protection crisis. Children fleeing violence are at significant risk of family separation, violence, abuse, sexual exploitation, and trafficking. Most have been exposed to deeply traumatic events. These children urgently need safety, stability, child protection services, and psychosocial support – especially those who are unaccompanied or have been separated from their families. More than anything, they need peace.

At the same time, the war and mass displacement are devastating livelihoods and economic opportunities, leaving many families without sufficient income to meet basic needs and unable to provide adequate support for their children.

UNICEF continues to call for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and to protect all children from harm. This includes ending the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and attacks on civilian infrastructure. UNICEF is appealing for full humanitarian access to safely and quickly reach children in need wherever they may be.

UNICEF and its partners are on the ground in Ukraine and neighbouring countries, working to provide children and their families with humanitarian assistance, including child protection, water and sanitation, health, nutrition and education services.

In Ukraine, UNICEF and partners have distributed life-saving health and medical supplies for nearly 2.1 million people in war-affected areas; enabled access to safe water for over 2.1 million people living in areas where networks have been damaged or destroyed; reached over 610,000 children and caregivers with mental health and psychosocial support; and provided learning supplies to nearly 290,000 children. Almost 300,000 vulnerable families have registered for a UNICEF-Ministry of Social Policy humanitarian cash assistance programme.

In refugee-hosting countries, UNICEF supports national, municipal and local systems that deliver essential services and protection, particularly for the most vulnerable children. This includes anti-trafficking training for border guards; expanding learning opportunities and integrating refugee children into schools; procuring vaccines and medical supplies; and establishing play and learning hubs that provide young children with a much-needed sense of normalcy and respite. Twenty-five UNICEF-UNHCR Blue Dots – one-stop safe havens that provide support and services for families on the move, have been established along major transit routes in Moldova, Romania, Poland, Italy, Bulgaria and Slovakia. In Moldova, over 52,000 refugees, mostly in female-headed households, have been reached through a UNICEF-UNHCR multi-purpose cash assistance programme.

UNICEF has issued a US $624.2M appeal for funds to support its humanitarian response inside Ukraine and a US $324.7M appeal for its response in refugee-hosting countries.

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