Child Refugee Crisis

by Save the Children Federation
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Child Refugee Crisis
Child Refugee Crisis
Child Refugee Crisis
Child Refugee Crisis
Child Refugee Crisis
Child Refugee Crisis
Child Refugee Crisis
Child Refugee Crisis
Child Refugee Crisis
Child Refugee Crisis
Child Refugee Crisis


Borak* and Nina* are from eastern Syria and fondly remember their lives before the war spending time with their family and friends. They felt so safe because they had so many loved ones around them. 

When the war hit, Borak and Nina fled Syria with their three children. They now live in a camp on the Greek island of Lesvos while they wait for their asylum application to be processed. All their children attend Save the Children’s Child Friendly Space and non-formal education activities in the camp. Their son Coban wants to be a civil engineer when he’s older, Ezin wants to be a doctor and Ester wants to be a famous gymnast or artist. Borak says he’s seen a big improvement in his children’s language skills since they started attending our programs.



More than 1.3 million people have crossed the Mediterranean since 2015, taking potentially perilous journeys to flee conflict, instability and persecution across the Middle East and Africa. So far this year, 3,165 migrants or refugees have arrived Europe by sea. 1,344 people have died or gone missing while crossing the Central Mediterranean to reach European shores this year. 

Along the route, children face extortion by smugglers, sexual abuse and exploitation, violence and trafficking. Many have been living for months in detention centres, which lack the right protection, information, and services they so desperately need.

Learn more about how Save the Children is keeping kids safe across these travel routes in the attached update. 

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Save the Children Sustaining Strong Responses at Sea and in Transit and Destination Countries

May 2017 

More than 1.3 million people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe since 2015, taking perilous journeys to flee conflict, instability and persecution in the Middle East and Africa. Through April of this year, 44,060 migrants or refugees had arrived in Europe by sea – most of whom arrived in Italy.  Another 1,092 people have perished or gone missing while crossing the central Mediterranean to reach European shores this year. 

There are 62,000 migrants and refugees now stranded in Greece because of border closings and the 2016 repatriation agreement between the European Union and Turkey, where most had departed from. Thousands of children and adults are also stuck in other countries they were hoping to quickly transit through; those still on the move are practically invisible because they fear deportation or becoming stranded. Everywhere along the migration route, children face extortion by smugglers, sexual abuse and exploitation, violence and trafficking. Many have been living for months in detention centers, which lack the protection, information and services they desperately need. Despite proposals made by Europe for an immediate response to the crisis, children’s rights and safety are not guaranteed.

 Our Response

Save the Children’s search and rescue vessel stationed in the Mediterranean between North Africa and Italy is saving lives as migrants and refugees cross the sea, often on dangerously unseaworthy boats. We provide humanitarian relief and support to children and families in Greece and Italy and along the migration routes. We make every effort to reach children who are unaccompanied by families or adults, as they are in grave danger of exploitation and abuse.

Our teams in Europe’s destination countries ensure that children receive the support they need to adjust to their new lives and that their rights and best interests are respected.

At Sea and Along the Mediterranean and Aegean Coasts

Search and Rescue Vessel

Our chartered vessel, the Vos Hestia, is on station in the Mediterranean Sea between North Africa and Italy for a second year, rescuing children and adults being smuggled across this dangerous sea route to Europe. Within a week of being deployed in early April, we rescued over 300 people and brought them safely to Italian ports. While aboard the Vos Hestia, children and adults receive food and water, health care and child protection services.The Vos Hestia will be operational from now until November. During the Vos Hestia’s first deployment from September to December 2016, it rescued more than 2,700 people, 400 of whom were children. We coordinate the Vos Hestia’s movements with the Italian Coastguard and ships of other aid agencies. 


As of late April, 34,810 refugees and migrants had arrived in Italy this year after crossing the Mediterranean. The majority were women and children. Save the Children has run program in Italy to aid migrants and refugees for the past nine years. We are established on the southern border of Italy, including the Lampedusa, Sicily, Calabria and Apulia regions, and in transit cities such as Rome and Milan.

  • Our child protection team meets refugees and migrants as they disembark from the Vos Hestia. They identify vulnerable children and provide legal information.
  • We have run training sessions on legal assistance and psychological support for staff working in reception facilities for unaccompanied children.
  • We have started a telephone helpline for children in several languages.


With the border between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia closed, over 62,200 refugees and migrants are stranded in Greece, including thousands being detained in facilities on the Greek islands. While the number of new arrivals has fallen dramatically, many of those stuck in the country while their status is decided face harsh conditions in camps and detention centers. It’s estimated that 20,000 of those stranded are children.

  • We are working in more than 20 sites, including camps, detention centers, hotels, apartments and shelters. Since August 2015, we have reached nearly 500,000 children and adults with assistance.
  • We run child- and youth-friendly spaces where children and youth can meet, play and receive psychosocial support in a safe environment.
  • At our mother-baby areas, mothers and pregnant women receive advice and support on nutrition and breastfeeding for children under age 2.
  • On the islands of Lesvos, Samos and Kos, and in Athens, we run shelters for unaccompanied children and offer counselling and activities to children in detention centers and other accommodations.


There are over 2.8 million Syrian refugees registered in Turkey. Iraqi refugees swell this number to over 3 million. Since March 2015, Turkey has tightened border controls, which have effectively shut all borders. The government plans to have all Syrian children integrated into the state education system within three years.

  • We have supported 58 temporary education centers in the Hatay Province and have provided over 15,000 kits of education supplies to students.
  • We are rehabilitating classrooms, improving five temporary education centers so that they meet international standards and are constructing three schools that will serve the educational needs of 1,530 Syrian children.
  • We have created a team to assist very vulnerable refugees from Syria, including those newly arrived, by providing information on their rights and access to services.

Transit Countries

Along the once-busy and often chaotic migration route through Balkan countries, refugees and migrants are still on the move or, as in Greece, stranded in reception centers, camps and abandoned buildings while their status is determined.


Up to 100 refugees and migrants arrive monthly by crossing the border from Serbia, being returned from other European Union members or through relocation from Greece or Italy. Between 500 and 600 people are in centers for asylum seekers during an average month.

  • Our non-formal education activities, creative and life skills workshops, psychosocial support and cultural mediation activities benefit unaccompanied children in five social welfare facilities.
  • We provide mothers with clothing, hygiene supplies and information on their children’s nutrition.


Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Over 300 refugees and migrants pass through the country monthly. If caught, they are pushed back to Greece. Others are stranded at two reception centers.

  • We and a partner support those on the move near the border with Serbia, providing essential supplies, psychosocial support, medical assistance, information and referrals to services.
  • We have mother-baby areas that provide access to nutritional services.


Our staff estimate that up to 1,000 people arrive monthly from Bulgaria or the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The vast majority want to keep moving to other destinations. Refugees and migrants travel with smugglers, which exposes them to risks of exploitation. Some 7,300 refugees and migrants are stranded, waiting to seek asylum in Hungary – many are staying in unhygienic, unsafe and undignified conditions in abandoned warehouses in Belgrade.

  • In Belgrade, we and a partner run a drop-in center for new arrivals and children staying in Belgrade’s urban areas. Services include psychosocial support, information and referrals. We also run mobile outreach teams in Belgrade, referring vulnerable children to services and providing assistance with registration and legal counselling.
  • At two reception centers, we provide psychosocial support and non-formal education activities to unaccompanied children.

Destination Countries

Our teams are working in Romania, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. They ensure that newly-arrived children and families have the support they require and that their rights are respected. Here are examples of recent activities:

  • In Romania, we organize a daily program for children in six reception centers, consisting of social, cultural and recreational age-appropriate activities. We have established child-friendly spaces, mother-baby areas and breastfeeding corners, support educational programs and inform children and their families of their rights.
  • In eight refugee shelters in The Netherlands, we have run structured recreational activities for hundreds of children and adolescents. We have received funding to expand activities to 32 shelter locations over the next two years.
  • In Germany, we trained some 50 staff at two “first reception centers” in Halberstadt and Eisenhüttenstadt to provide psychological first aid to children.
  • We provide housing to unaccompanied minors who have been granted asylum in Finland and are waiting for further placement.
  • At our family clubs in Denmark, Danish and refugee families come together to participate in a range of activities. Our Space for All program helps refugee children access sports and recreational activities and clubs.
  • Our child- and youth-friendly spaces in Spain serve children and youth from ages 3 to 16. We are preparing to open a new center in Melilla to provide non-formal education, recreational activities, protection and psychosocial support to refugees, migrants and unaccompanied children.

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February 2017

The Exploding Phenomenon of Children on the Move

Over 65 million people worldwide have fled their homes due to conflict or fear of violence and persecution, according to the UN Refugee Agency. There are more people fleeing war and persecution today than ever before – and nearly 11 million are from Syria’s brutal six-year war. On average, 24 people worldwide were displaced from their homes every minute of every day during 2015, amounting to some 34,000 per day. 

While conflict and oppression may be the key drivers behind the flight of millions of children, other girls and boys are leaving their homes because of natural disasters and chronic food shortages, which create extreme hunger and increase vulnerabilities; pervasive criminal violence; and political turmoil and discrimination against ethnic minorities. For other children, family migration promises the chance of a better life, an escape from poverty and an opportunity to access jobs, education and basic services.  Nearly half of these 65 million people are children below age 18. Far too many are suffering from inadequate access to food, water, shelter and other necessities. Additionally, the basic services children need to survive and develop are frequently far outside their reach, including education, protection and heath care. Their futures have been stolen from them – and without comprehensive aid and support, their childhoods will be lost forever. 

Save the Children’s Response

Since our organization’s inception in 1919, we have worked tirelessly to help girls and boys who are displaced from their homes by conflict, persecution, oppression, disaster and other crises. We provide lifesaving assistance, improve access to quality education, ensure that children do not die from preventable causes, and protect children from violence and exploitation. We also meet the emotional needs of children traumatized by their being uprooted from home or witnessing war’s horrors. We protect girls and boys from violence, trafficking and exploitation. We identify the most vulnerable children – including those traveling alone – and ensure they have safe places to stay, play, can learn and have pathways that help them rebuild their lives.

Save the Children is committed to continuing to help millions of children on the move, regardless of ethnicity, religion or any other factor. Your contribution to our Child Refugee Crisis Relief Fund will support our work to meet children’s immediate and longer-term needs: from food and clothing to health services and child protection to our advocacy work and expert staff.

Our Work inside Syria 

Since the beginning of our humanitarian response to the crisis in Syria, Save the Children and our partners have worked tirelessly to reach children and adults displaced and trapped in their war-torn country. We have delivered a wide range of aid to over 2.3 million displaced Syrians to date, of whom 1.5 million are children, continuously providing

health and hygiene services, food and  nutrition resources, psychosocial support and protection and restoring children’s access to education and adults’ access to a sustainable income.  Save the Children and its partners in Syria’s Aleppo and Idlib governorates also provided food, blankets, emergency kits, and cash grants to thousands of overwhelmed children and families who were evacuated from the shattered city of Aleppo in December 2016 after enduring months of brutal conflict.

Our Work in the Middle East

Across the region affected by the Syria crisis, Save the Children is meeting the needs of refugee children and their families. We work in camps and urban communities in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. We are providing early childhood care for children under age 5. We have established and supported schools, supplied education materials and trained teachers. We are helping youth develop life skills and access employment; we have also set up child-friendly spaces and youth spaces, which build children’s resilience and offer psychosocial support to those who need it. By increasing access to health care and nutrition services, we are helping families receive the treatment and support they need, and we annually distribute clothing and winterization kits to families living in unheated or abandoned buildings.

Our Reach across Europe

Save the Children has provided nonstop relief to children and families on the move in Greece and Italy, and during their arduous journey along migratory routes to their destinations. We have adapted our aid as borders have closed – always to ensure very vulnerable children are protected from harm. We make every effort to reach children making the journey alone, as they are in grave danger of exploitation and abuse.

With over 60,000 refugees and migrants trapped in Greece, we are providing health and nutrition services and activities that keep children safe and engaged in education. In April of this year, we will be redeploying our search-and-rescue vessel, the Vos Hestia, in the Mediterranean Sea, which rescued more than 2,700 children and adults from the most dangerous sea crossing (the route from North Africa to Italy) in 2016. In refugee  reception centers and host communities in Europe’s destination countries, we ensure newly-arrived children have access to essential services and that their rights are respected. We work in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Norway, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands. 

Advocacy for Children

In 2016, the global Save the Children movement launched the Every Last Child campaign to ensure that all children survive, learn and are protected – with a specific focus on girls and refugee children. Through it, we are advocating for a “new deal” for forcibly displaced children – and are pushing for robust refugee resettlement, increased financing for education in emergencies and policy changes to facilitate refugee children’s access to quality learning. Importantly, we are encouraging a global commitment to ensure every child who is forcibly displaced by conflict is learning within 30 days of displacement. We will continue to be a constant voice for children on the move, whose only chance for survival and a better future relies on access to safety and protection.  

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Forced to Flee
Forced to Flee

ONE YEAR AGO in September 2015, a 3-year-old boy named Alan Kurdi drowned in the Mediterranean Sea as he and his family fled war-ravaged Syria. Images of his lifeless body face down on the shore unleashed an international firestorm, galvanizing public outrage over the growing numbers of refugees worldwide and how they are being treated.

Every day, conflict and persecution force nearly 34,000 people – 24 people per minute – to flee their homes in search of safety, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

Today, there are more than 65 million forcibly displaced people globally. If they all resettled in one place, it would be the 21stlargest country in the world – larger in population than the United Kingdom, and nearly three times as large as Australia.

Like the citizens of many real countries, the world’s displaced are a diverse population – people from different cultures who practice different faiths and speak different languages. In the same vein as the International Olympic Committee creating a new team to allow refugees to compete, imagining all displaced people as citizens of one “country” recognizes their value as equal members of a global society and brings attention to the magnitude of their collective plight.

More than that, it allows for comparison of various population data with country-level averages across the world – such as, the percentage of school-aged children attending school. To place this “country” in context, Save the Children examined the indicators most relevant to the well-being of children, and found the following. The 21stLargest Country:

  • has the fastest-growing population in the world
  • has one of the youngest populations in the world
  • ranks close to last in the world on school attendance
  • is among the most dangerous places for harmful practices like early marriage
  • is in the top half of the most urbanized countries in the world
  • loses too many children to preventable health conditions
  • would have a middle-income economy, if its people had adequate access to employment.

This comparison makes clear that forcibly displaced families, and even more so their children, are being left far behind, both in terms of their immediate circumstances and investments in their future. It also underscores the urgency of reaching them with help. Many of the problems they face are ones for which there are already known solutions.

Citizens of this country probably will not be able to return home for many years. In that time, its population will continue to grow at a rapid pace and, without concerted action, fall farther behind. Should that happen, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals would likely be out of reach. The question before us now is whether we have the political will to include forcibly displaced people in our shared vision, and action, for a better world in 2030.

Save the Children is calling on all countries to step up and commit to a New Deal for every forcibly displaced child – one in which we ensure children’s right to health, education and freedom from exploitation, and share responsibility for doing so. The challenges facing displaced people are formidable, but if governments work together, along with non-governmental organizations and the private sector, those challenges can be overcome.

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Refugee Camp
Refugee Camp

“Our emergency team was distributing aid in one of the new camps last night and they spoke to families who were sleeping in tents with nothing but a blanket on the hard concrete. In Europe in 2016 this is totally unacceptable and inhumane. For many people it’s yet another terrible experience for them after months and often years of living with war and then surviving the dangerous journey to Europe. Our staff said some people have just lost all hope.”

Amy Frost, Save the Children’s Team Leader in Greece, on the closing of the Idomeni Camp and relocation of refugees and migrants to warehouses.

The stranding of over 53,000 refugees and migrants in Greece and the confirmed deaths of 880 people attempting the perilous sea crossing from Libya to Italy in smugglers’ boats in the last week of May are keeping the world’s attention riveted on the plight of those desperately seeking to reach Europe. As of late May, over 1.2 million people had migrated to Europe since 2015 began, with no end to this movement from places of brutal conflict, oppression, human rights abuses and deep poverty.

Save the Children continues to reach refugee and migrant children in Greece, Italy, and throughout Europe with humanitarian relief. As conditions change, we are adapting our work so that we can address urgent needs and support children wherever they are. We make every effort to reach children who are unaccompanied by families or adults, as they are in grave danger of exploitation and abuse. Many sleep in parks and camps, too afraid to ask for help for fear of being detained.

Our teams and volunteers are also assisting children who have arrived in Europe’s destination countries, and our presence remains strong in the Middle East, where many thousands of girls and boys are in dire need inside Syria and in refugee camps and host communities within countries surrounding Syria.


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Save the Children Federation

Location: Fairfield, CT - USA
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Twitter: @savethechildren
Project Leader:
Lisa Smith
Fairfield, CT United States
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