Fostering hope in a children’s crisis

April 2016: Building resilience; fostering hope.

Since the closure of the Balkan route to Europe in March, around 500 children remain stranded in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, trapped in limbo between their past and their future. They have something in common with the other 150,000 refugee and migrant children who passed through the country between June 2015 and March 2016. They all have dreams, and they all have hope for a better, safer future.

© UNICEF/UN011166/Georgiev

As the refugee and migrant crisis intensified, children made up a growing proportion of people travelling through the country — they represented just 9 per cent in June 2015 and peaked at 43 per cent in the first week of March 2016. After crossing the border from Greece, a young girl turns to wait for family members as they traverse the path to the Vinojug transit centre in Gevgelija.

© UNICEF/UN09813/Georgiev

Most of the refugee and migrant children are escaping conflict and insecurity, their gruelling journeys compounding the trauma of horrors witnessed at home. In Tabanovce transit centre, near the border with Serbia, a young girl is helped from the train near the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space, where she’ll find a safe place to rest and play, nutritious food, bathing facilities and clean clothes.

© UNICEFMK/2016/Georgiev

With our partners, UNICEF is doing all it can to uphold children’s dignity and resilience, and ensure their rights and needs are at the heart of the response. A young boy smiles from a train window as he departs from Gevgelija and heads towards Serbia, on the day that borders restrictions tightened for Afghans.

© UNICEF/UN010690/Georgiev

All children on the move have suffered losses — some have experienced the tragic loss of family members and friends, and all have lost stability and the carefree life that all children deserve. After thousands were stranded when the borders of Balkan countries closed, a young boy enjoys the gift of a toy, even while enduring difficult conditions with hundreds camped near the border with Serbia.


UNICEF and its partners understand that for children coping with volatile and uncertain situations, critical support can take the form of simply allowing children to be just that — children. In Gevgelija during New Year festivities, young boys enjoy games at the child-friendly space.


During winter in the Balkans, infants’ and children’s difficult journeys were exacerbated by harsh weather, their clothing inadequate for freezing temperatures and rain, snow and bitter winds. In the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space in Gevgelija, a baby warms up in a winter jumpsuit purchased with funds from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO).

© UNICEF/UN011179/Georgiev

Helping children overcome difficult experiences though activities to develop skills and coping mechanisms is a key component of the psychosocial support that UNICEF and its partners provide. In Gevgelija, children participate in art activities with the psychologists and social workers who work in the child-friendly space and throughout transit centre.


Every child travelling to seek safety and a better life is in need of protection and entitled to the rights guaranteed under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the right to relax and play. A young girl prepares to take her turn in a fun game of darts outside the Vinojug transit centre in Gevgelija.


Part of fostering hope is providing respite on children’s long journeys to safety. Eight-year-old Vinda, from Syria, smiles after playing and resting with her three younger siblings in the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space in Gevgelija.


Children deserve to hold on to their hopes and dreams, even during the most difficult of times. In the glow of a beautiful sunset, staff of UNICEF’s partner in Gevgelija turn a skipping rope for a young girl.

UNICEF’s response is generously supported by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), the governments of Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom, UNICEF’s National Committees, individuals and corporate and private partners.

Read the article in Macedonian language here.