Europe’s child refugee crisis

Europe is experiencing its worst child refugee crisis since world war two. One third of the refugees and migrants who have arrived in Europe since 2015 are children - almost two thirds of them are alone, having lost or been separated from their families. 

SOS Children’s Villages is at the forefront of providing vital care and support to refugee children along the European migrant route and in destination countries. We operate emergency relief operations in Greece, Italy, Serbia, Norway, Finland, Macedonia, Sweden and Germany.

Children are at risk

Last year, 33,000 children fled warfare and disaster along the dangerous migrant routes towards Europe. Many are living in appalling conditions in refugee camps and makeshift shelters, without access to clean water, electricity or toilets. Others are in overcrowded and under-resourced refugee transit centres, or are being held in detention. Most have no access to formal education.

As countries across Europe close their borders, children have been left stranded – afraid to turn back, and unable to continue on with their journeys, apply for asylum or reunite with their families in other parts of Europe.

A growing number of child refugees arrive in Europe without parental care. Many European countries have failed to properly provide for the needs of unaccompanied child refugees, and there are insufficient suitable alternative care arrangements in place. Without proper support and protection these children are extremely vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and exploitation. Every year, 10,000 refugee children go missing from Europe.

The UK accepts only a small number of unaccompanied refugee children through arrangements such as the Dubs Scheme. However, our immigration laws mean that those we do accept are often denied the opportunity to be reunited with their families and are placed in care.

How we are helping 

We are providing care and support to refugee children across Europe. In several of the European countries in which we operate, we are the primary or only caregivers for refugee children and their families. Almost three quarters of all refugee children in Serbia are under our care, while our child-friendly spaces in Macedonia have so far assisted 110,000 children and 60,000 women.

Our emergency relief programmes are providing:

  • Temporary care and shelter for unaccompanied child refugees
  • Emergency supplies, such as food, water, clothing, nappies and first aid
  • Child-friendly spaces which enable children and families to recover from their ordeal in safety
  • Trauma counselling and psycho-social support
  • Access to education and vocational training, including language courses
  • Legal support to help children reunite with their families

Child refugees in Italy

Italy is fast becoming one of the main entry points into Europe for child refugees. Yet this route into Europe is also one of the most dangerous - almost three quarters of children report having experienced forced labour or sexual exploitation during their journey. Half have been held against their will.

A shortage of appropriate care facilities for unaccompanied child refugees in Italy means children are frequently housed in poorly resourced reception centres for far longer than the thirty days the law allows – in some cases for more than a year. Designed solely as a temporary measure to offer children food and shelter, the centres are ill-equipped to provide for children’s long-term care needs such as emotional support, adult supervision and access to education.

We are working with unsupported child refugees in twelve reception centres in Italy. Our team of psychologists, social workers and legal counsellors offer children counselling and mental health support, life-skills training, inter-cultural mediation services and legal support. We are also providing training to staff at the centres, to strengthen the system of support and care available to children and improve the way they are perceived and treated.

99% of the refugee children arriving in Italy are unaccompanied by an adult - last year almost 30,000 of them went missing.