Resilience, Peace and Security

Child refugee numbers have soared, according to a new Unicef report

Syrian refugee girl Nur El-Huda, 9, shows a drawing of her home in Syria, in her classroom in Yayladagi refugee camp in Hatay province near the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkey, December 16, 2015.

The figures mean that 1 in 200 children in the world is a child refugee. Image: © Umit Bektas / Reuters;

Alex Gray
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Migration

The number of child refugees has grown nearly 80% in just 5 years, according to a new report by Unicef.

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of child refugees under UNHCR’s mandate shot up by 77% -- from 5 million to 8 million.

By comparison, the total number of child migrants rose by only 21% during the decade between 2005 and 2015, from 25 million to 31 million.

Image: Uprooted: The Growing Crisis For Refugee And Migrant Children, Unicef

Children represent a disproportionate fraction of the world’s refugees. They made up less than one-third of the global population, but accounted for 51 per cent of the world’s refugees in 2015, says the report.

The figures mean that 1 in every 200 children in the world is a refugee; and nearly 1 in 3 children living outside the country of their birth is a refugee (31 million children live outside their country of birth, 11 million of whom are child refugees and asylum-seekers.)

What has caused the spike in numbers?

In 2015, wars and persecution have driven more people from their homes than at any time since records began, according to a report released by the UN Refugee Agency in June.

In the past five years, at least 15 conflicts have erupted or reignited: eight in Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, northeastern Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and this year in Burundi); three in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, and Yemen); one in Europe (Ukraine) and three in Asia (Kyrgyzstan, and in several areas of Myanmar and Pakistan.)

Last year, around 45% of all child refugees under UNHCR’s protection came from Syria and Afghanistan. About three-quarters of all child refugees under UNHCR’s mandate came from only 10 countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Myanmar, Eritrea and Colombia.

Image: Uprooted: The Growing Crisis For Refugee And Migrant Children, Unicef

Where do they go?

The 10 countries hosting the largest numbers of refugees are all in Asia and Africa, with Turkey hosting by far the largest total number of refugees. Lebanon and Jordan host the largest number of refugees relative to their populations and the highest density of refugees relative to their territories.

Although not all countries have data on child refugees, for instance Turkey, it is assumed that a high proportion of its refugees are children.

Image: Uprooted: The Growing Crisis For Refugee And Migrant Children, Unicef

The report says that in fact its numbers may well be only a conservative estimate, and calls for concerted action on gathering better data in order to better address the needs of child refugees.

“This report is an effort to bring together the best data that are available, but effectively addressing the rights and needs of children requires concerted action to fill the gaps that remain.”

Consequences

Child refugees are particularly vulnerable, says the report. They are five times more likely to be out of school than non-refugee children. Even those in school are likely to suffer discrimination, including unfair treatment and bullying.

They are also vulnerable outside the classroom. Often they are not able to access healthcare and other services. In addition, they can become the focus of xenophobic attacks. In Germany alone, authorities tracked 850 attacks against refugee shelters in 2015.

The report calls for urgent action to help protect child refugees. Children belong at the centre of every debate on migration and displacement, it concludes.

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