Child refugee crisis: the role of humanitarian assistance

Children’s needs and vulnerabilities in emergencies were the main topic of discussion at the recent Humanitarian Assistance National Workshop held by the Emergency Planning Society in Exeter on 21 October 2015 in Exeter.

Ginny Howells, Emergencies Manager Save the Children UK and member of our CUIDAR team, led a session detailing the on-going European Refugee Crisis involving the biggest movement of people within Europe since World War II. Over 643,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean this year and 18% of those arrivals are children. In the first half of 2015 1,000 unaccompanied children arrived in the UK.

Ginny explained that people decide to make the precarious journey to leave their country of origin because what they leave behind is more terrible than what is in front. They are fleeing conflict, persecution, poverty and human right’s abuses. Travelling through countries of transit accessing basic amenities such as food, water and shelter is problematic. Unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking and sexual abuse and some become separated from their families en route. By the time the children reach their country of destination the majority have experienced a triple trauma: firstly, as a result of having to flee from their home, secondly along the dangerous journey and thirdly, learning to cope with life in unfamiliar and often hostile surroundings.

Save the Children has worked for decades on these issues and along the whole route that the refugees take. In the countries they are fleeing – like Syria, Nigeria and Somalia and in countries along the route – like Turkey, Italy and Greece, to ensure that children are protected wherever possible. Save the Children also works in countries of destination such as Sweden, Germany and the UK. This work includes supporting existing services, setting up safe spaces where there are reception centres, providing training to those who are working and caring for children and information on children’s rights.