The emergency relief programme continues to provide refugee children with education
Serbia – January 3 2019

Education at risk for unaccompanied child refugees

A failure to increase capacity in the education system in the wake of the child refugee crisis has left unaccompanied child refugees in Serbia at risk of missing out on a good education, SOS Children’s Villages’ National Director for the region has warned. Large class sizes and a lack of individual care means that many vulnerable children are not having their needs met. 

One third of the refugees and migrants who have arrived in Europe since the crisis peaked in 2015 are children. Of the nearly 4,000 refugees who have settled in Serbia, at least 10% are children who are without parental care, having lost or been separated from their families.

Refugee children have unique needs which can impact their ability to receive a decent education if improperly addressed. In addition to facing language and cultural difficulties, many refugee children have suffered trauma, family separation or abuse which can affect their emotional and psychological development. Close attention and individual support by teachers and care-workers are therefore crucial for their progress.

Most refugee centres in Serbia are located in small communities which have faced challenges increasing the capacity of their educational systems. The lack of compulsory secondary schooling in the country is also limiting the access of older refugee children to education.

The children’s charity is calling for improved access to education and vocational training, child counselling and language classes for refugee children in Serbia to support their integration into their new communities and improve their future life-chances.

National Director of SOS Children's Villages Serbia Vesna Mraković-Jokanović said: “Trafficking and smuggling are the biggest risks for unaccompanied children - for adults too.  We inform children and families about the risks, providing information and running awareness programmes.

“The focus of our work is to ensure that every child is cared for – ideally by their parents, but when the parents are not available, then by other family members. This is not always easy. We see cases in the refugee reception centres where parents are so badly traumatised themselves that they are unable to care for their children. Others feel that they do not have any power over their lives and are struggling to cope. We work with these families to improve their situation.

“There are many ways we can help - by involving parents in activities with their children or providing them with educational and vocational training opportunities. We also support refugee children through educational activities, so they start to learn the Serbian language and are better prepared for school.”

SOS Children’s Villages supports refugee children and families in four refugee reception centres across northern Serbia - Adaševci, Kikinda, Obrenovac and Principovac. Their child welfare specialists have helped more than 125,000 children, young people and parents since the crisis began, ensuring children are protected and cared for and that families receive much-needed support. Key services include:

  • Child Friendly Spaces offering educational and recreational activities, homework support, language lessons and psychological and emotional care for younger children
  • Child protection officers working to prevent neglect, abuse and exploitation and support victims’ recovery
  • ICT and Youth Corners for young people to learn computer and programming skills, access online educational resources and keep in contact with their family’s abroad
  • Mother and Baby Corners offering health, nutritional and child-development support and a safe and private place for mothers to feed their babies
  • Training and capacity building for government agencies

Conditions for unaccompanied child refugees in Serbia have improved significantly since 2015, when many children spent the winter living in abandoned buildings and parks in Belgrade. However, government plans to take over the running of child and family services for refugees by the end of 2019 have faced serious challenges, including a lack of qualified staff and a need to train employees on appropriate standards for the care and support of vulnerable children. SOS Children’s Villages is supporting the government with capacity-building.

You can find out more about our work protecting child refugees worldwide.

Notes to editors:
For media enquiries please contact Lucy Prioli at or on 01223 222 974.

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