What's happening to child refugees in Europe?

It’s the biggest child refugee crisis since WWII

There are more child refugees in Europe than at any point since the end of the second world war. As children flee from war and disaster, borders across Europe are closing and making their journeys even more dangerous and difficult. In Greece and elsewhere, children are being stranded at refugee transit centres, unable to seek asylum or reach their families who live legally in Europe.

The Government pledged to reunite children from Calais with their UK families, but very little has been done for children stuck in other parts of Europe. To date, only five children are thought to have been transferred to the UK from Greece, and none from Italy.

Pati, 16, was forced to put her life in the hands of smugglers when she made the treacherous journey from Libya to Italy.

Why are children still facing these dangerous journeys?

There are no safe and legal routes for families to escape from the conflicts and disasters that have affected their countries. European governments simply haven’t provided them. As a result, many refugee children have been separated from their families, and left with no other options other than to rely on smugglers, who often take advantage of their desperate situation.

Authorities in Greece and Italy have found it difficult work to identify trafficked children. Children are often too scared to say anything that might put them in further danger with their smugglers. Many children travel on a “pay as you go” system, earning money to pay for themselves en route. These children often end up being exploited and used for illegal labour, including sexual exploitation.

We're refugees now. People don't like us. No one is loyal, everyone lies.


I was a kid before - I'm older now.

Rawan, 12, a refugee from Aleppo in Syria

How can I make sure refugee children are protected?

You can help Unicef make sure that governments change things for child refugees. Join us by calling on the UK Government to reunite refugee children with their families in the UK, providing safe and legal routes so that they’ll never have to make these dangerous journeys again.

Download the report

What's next for refugee children in Europe? Get this exclusive report from Unicef and Save the Children.

Download the report

What’s Unicef doing to help refugee children?

Together with our partners, we’ve established child and family support hubs – known as Blue Dot centres – across Europe to provide help to refugee children and families.

The Blue Dot centres provide a range of services, including family reunification, child-friendly spaces, first aid, psychosocial and emotional care, legal counselling, safe spaces for women and children to sleep and outreach social workers.

Find out how Unicef helps child refugees as they make dangerous journeys through Europe - providing them with places to eat, sleep and play.

We're work at transit centres and along migration routes, including in Libya, providing clean water, sanitation facilities, blankets and clothing for children.
Unicef/2016/Georgiev

At the request of Greek authorities, Unicef provides quality non-formal education to almost 5,000 refugee and migrant children including mother tongue and life skills education for at-risk children.
Unicef/2017/Irby

We're also providing psychosocial support, learning, and play activities to around 2,400 children in Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia.
Unicef/2015/Georgiev

In Greece, we’ve put special emphasis on helping unaccompanied children – 400 of whom will be provided with temporary accommodation as they wait for asylum, family reunification or relocation in Europe. Another 6,000 vulnerable children and women will benefit from psychosocial support and help from specialised child protection services.

These services are invaluable for children like 16-year-old Aamir. He left Afghanistan three years ago when his parents were killed by the Taliban, and is a very vulnerable child. Slight and subdued, he walks with a painful-looking limp, the effects of a degenerative bone disease. According to Greek doctors, this disease can only be addressed by specialist paediatric surgery in the UK, which is where he’s applied for residency.

“When we were in Iran, my grandmother died and I had to bury her” said Aaimr. “Then I had to work for a year, sewing in a workshop underground, to raise money for the rest of the journey. I miss my grandmother a lot. I learned to cook Persian dishes like hers on YouTube”.

Aamir receives shelter and  is on a specific plan, including psychotherapy, to help him overcome the trauma of his journey from home. Aamir tells us “what I want is to go somewhere to heal my leg, to have a quiet life, and to study.”

Aamir, 16, cooks at the shelter in Athens for his fellow children. He learnt how to cook his grandmother's recipes on YouTube.
Unicef/2017/Irby