Across the globe, nearly 50 million children have been uprooted, migrating to find a better, safer life, with 28 million forcibly displaced by conflict and violence within and across borders, a new UNICEF study reveals.

Often traumatised by the conflicts and violence they are fleeing, these children face further dangers along the way, including the risk of drowning on sea crossings, malnourishment and dehydration, trafficking, kidnapping, rape and even murder. In countries they travel through and at their destinations, they often face xenophobia and discrimination.

The plight of the children was revealed in UNICEF’s report, released on 7 September, “Uprooted: The growing crisis for refugee and migrant children.” It presents new data on the lives of millions of children and families affected by violent conflict and other crises that make it seem safer to risk everything on a perilous journey than remain at home.

Shocking statistics

“Uprooted” shows that:

  • Children represent a disproportionate and growing proportion of those who have sought refuge outside their countries of birth: they make up about a third of the global population but about half of all refugees. In 2015, around 45 percent of all child refugees under UNHCR’s protection came from Syria and Afghanistan
  • Twenty-eight million children have been driven from their homes by violence and conflict within and across borders, including 10 million child refugees, one million asylum seekers whose refugee status has not yet been determined, and an estimated 17 million children displaced within their own countries – children in dire need of humanitarian assistance and access to critical services.
  • More and more children are crossing borders on their own. In 2015, over 100,000 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in 78 countries – triple the number in 2014. Unaccompanied children are among those at the highest risk of exploitation and abuse, including by smugglers and traffickers.
  • About 20 million other international child migrants have left their homes for a variety of reasons, including extreme poverty or gang violence. Many are at particular risk of abuse and detention because they have no documentation, have uncertain legal status, and there is no systematic tracking and monitoring of their wellbeing.

The report goes on to explain that children who have left or are forcibly displaced from their homes often lose out on the potential benefits of migration, such as education – a major driving factor for many children and families who choose to migrate. A refugee child is five times more likely to be out of school than a non-refugee child. When they are able to attend school at all, it is the place migrant and refugee children are most likely to encounter discrimination, including unfair treatment and bullying.

Call for action

The UNICEF report highlights six specific actions that will protect and help displaced, refugee and migrant children:

  • Protecting child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence
  • Ending the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating by introducing a range of practical alternatives.
  • Keeping families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status.
  • Keeping all refugee and migrant children learning and giving them access to health and other quality services.
  • Pressing for action on the underlying causes of large-scale movements of refugees and migrants.
  • Promoting measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination, and marginalisation.