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UNICEF ramps up mobile response for child refugees and migrants in Croatia, as numbers climb

2015-09-22

A woman carrying a child walks on a muddy path in the southern town of Preševo, on the border with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Thousands of refugees and migrants are transiting Serbia each day to reach other countries in the European Union. Many have been travelling for weeks after fleeing conflict. Since June 2015, more than 89,160 people have been registered crossing into Serbia, and UNHCR estimates that, at any given time, more than 12,000 refugees from the Syria and other war-torn countries are in Serbian territory.

Photo and video assets are available here: http://uni.cf/1LOQt9b  

ZAGREB/GENEVA, September 22, 2015 – UNICEF has established two mobile units of child protection and welfare experts in Croatia, as an estimated 10,000 women and child refugees and migrants have entered the country in the past week alone. 

The mobile units, which offer creative and recreational activities for children, are in addition to fixed child-friendly spaces, where children can rest, play and benefit from psychological first aid.

Many of the children are exhausted, confused and traumatized after arduous journeys across several countries. Some have viral infections and are dehydrated. They need rest, play and fresh cooked meals, since they have been eating dry or canned foods for months. 

Tens of thousands of people on the move have found alternative routes since Hungary closed its borders with Serbia last Tuesday. Some have arrived at the newly established reception centre in Opatovac, a village on the border with Serbia, after travelling for weeks in extremely arduous conditions.

UNICEF and its partners are on the ground providing humanitarian services at Opatovac and other reception centres in Croatia, where on average 5,000 people have been arriving every day since last Tuesday. UNICEF has set up child friendly spaces, which are providing diapers, bottled water and information on breastfeeding. UNICEF has distributed leaflets to warn those crossing into Croatia of the danger of landmines in the border areas, left over from the Balkans war in the 1990s. More than 7,000 leaflets in Arabic and English have been distributed on the border – some by mobile teams.

Few of the refugees passing through the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Croatia and Serbia register for asylum but instead continue their journey by bus or train with the aim of crossing into western and northern Europe. Many are fleeing violence in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Croatia is one of the latest countries to see a sudden rise in the number of refugees and migrants seeking a safe passage to west and northern Europe. In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, nearly 90,000 people – about one third were women and children – have been registered at the border at Gevgelija since June of this year. In Serbia, nearly 108,000 people have been registered crossing the border at Presevo over the same period. It is estimated that the actual figures may be twice as high as many people transit through both countries without being registered.

Children already make up a quarter of all asylum seekers in Europe so far this year. In the first seven months of 2015, 133,000 children sought asylum in the European Union, an increase of almost 80 per cent since 2014, according the latest available Eurostat data.

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UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. We work tirelessly to help children and their families, doing whatever it takes to ensure children survive. We provide children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations and helps children regardless of race, religion or politics. As part of the UN, we are active in over 190 countries - more than any other organization. Our determination and our reach are unparalleled. Because nowhere is too far to go to help a child survive. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca.

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.