Since early 2015, over one million fleeing conflict and crisis have transited through Greece or Bulgaria to seek safety and a better future in Europe—nearly 100,000 of them were unaccompanied or separated children (UASC). At least a third of those still arriving to Europe and irregularly travelling through or stranded along the former Balkan Route are children, including UASC.
This continued irregular flow is driven by ongoing conflicts, insecurity and poverty in countries of origin, and by insufficient information, uncertain outcomes, delays in the asylum process, and poor reception conditions and services in first reception countries, as well as along the Balkan route. Every day we see UASC travelling with smugglers, exposed to the risks of physical and sexual abuse or exploitation, crossing many European borders without being registered by the authorities or being incorrectly registered as adults. These children travel thousands of kilometers to reach safety in Europe, and they are slipping through the cracks.
It is estimated that over 1,300 UASC are currently at risk of exploitation, violence and trafficking throughout the region. This brief is a joint effort by 12 national and international humanitarian agencies, including the International Rescue Committee and Save the Children, to raise awareness about this ongoing but hidden crisis for some of the world’s most vulnerable children, specifically focusing on UASC in Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Serbia and Croatia.
To improve the overall response for these children, all stakeholders must address the:
- Insufficient and unreliable data or information management on UASC within the region;
- Lack of options for safe accommodation and comprehensive services in line with each child’s best interests;
- Lack of access to legal pathways and lack of cross-border case management to improve continuity of care and protection; and
- Exposure to exploitation, violence and trafficking, including as a result of smuggling and violent pushback