Child refugee figures have jumped by 75% in five years to 8 million, and UNICEF calls for urgent action to protect the 50 million child migrants worldwide, of these, 28 million have been forced to flee by conflict.
Syria and Afghanistan – comprise half of all child refugees under protection by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), while roughly three-quarters of the world’s child refugees come from just 10 countries. Globally, Turkey has the largest share of refugees – including adults – under protection by the UNHCR, and is believed to host the most child refugees as well.
The UNICEF report also calls on the international community for urgent action to protect child migrants; end detention for children seeking refugee status or migrating; keep families together; and provide much-needed education and health services for children migrants.
“Though many communities and people around the world have welcomed refugee and migrant children, xenophobia, discrimination, and exclusion pose serious threats to their lives and futures,” said Unicef’s executive director, Anthony Lake. “But if young refugees are accepted and protected today, if they have the chance to learn and grow, and to develop their potential, they can be a source of stability and economic progress.”
“Today, nearly one in every 200 children in the world is a refugee,” said Lily Caprani, Unicef UK’s deputy executive director. “In the last few years we have seen huge numbers of children being forced to flee their homes, and take dangerous, desperate journeys, often on their own. Children on the move are at risk of the worst forms of abuse and harm and can easily fall victim to traffickers and other criminals.”
Today children comprise one-eighth of all international migrants in the world (31 million children out of 244 million total migrants), according to 2015 data. The vast majority of child migrants – some 3.7 million children – live in the US, followed by Saudi Arabia and Jordan, while in Europe, the UK hosts the largest number of migrants under the age of 18 (close to 750,000). The vast majority of the world’s child migrants live in Asia or Africa, the report says. Asia is the birthplace of nearly half (43%) of all the migrants in the world, with nearly 60% of these migrants moving within the region. Most of Asia’s child migrants are hosted in Saudi Arabia, which also receives the highest number of labour migrants.
In Africa, nearly one in three migrants is a child – nearly twice the global average – and three in five refugees are children. African migrants move both within and beyond the continent’s borders in nearly equal numbers; South Africa and Ivory Coast are the top two host countries for immigrants. But on-going conflict in many countries, in addition to linguistic difficulties between peoples and extremely limited resources to deal with migrant and refugee populations, mean that “the economic and social pressures of hosting threaten to uproot refugees once more”, the report warns.
Data clearly shows that refugee and migrant children disproportionately face poverty and exclusion despite being in great need of aid and resources, and in many circumstances are required to handle their own legal cases as they lack any form of legal representation.
“In many parts of the world, children are often and regularly in court proceedings where they have no legal representative and no adult representation, most notably on the border between Central America and the US,” says. “Think says Dale Rutstein of Unicef’s Office of Research – Innocenti, of how absurd it is for a child to be arguing their case against a government-appointed lawyer. Often states believe they are set up to protect ‘their own’ children, but children have to be children anywhere and everywhere, and need to have the same standard forms of protection and treatment [around the world].”
The report calls on the international community to fulfil the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, which obliges ratifying countries to respect and protect the rights of all children within their territories, regardless of a child’s background or migration status.