© UNICEF/NYHQ2015–2858/Gilbertson VII

Children on the move

The movement of children and families across Europe is the largest since World War II.

November 2015: Refugees and migrants, including children, continue to make the difficult and dangerous journey — by sea and on land — to reach Europe in search of safety and a better life. Many of them are fleeing violent conflict, persecution and deprivations in their home countries. The movement of children and families across the continent is largest since World War II.


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Children travelling without a parent or other adult are among the thousands of people arriving every day in Europe. Unaccompanied minors Ali and Ahmad Abdul-Halim, from Lebanon, arrived in Greece by boat.

“I thought of my mom first,” Ali said about their terrifying sea crossing.
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For many children, the danger of staying in their country is worse than the danger of leaving.

“It was a long journey … until we arrived here; a very hard journey.” Ali said. The boys hope to reach Germany. “The jobs are there, and I will be able to live with dignity, “ Ali adds.
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Some parents, unable to make the journey and desperate to protect their children, are relying on other adults.

“I told her mother I would keep her safe,…” said Safar Sabah (in white cap) from Iraq, who brought 7-year-old Ilaf (with thermal blanket) to Lesbos from Turkey.
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Millions of children are on the move, and all are in need of basic services, care and protection. In Greece, children play by a waste ditch in the Idomeni transit camp for refugees and migrants, near the border with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

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UNICEF-supported child-friendly spaces provide safe areas for children to rest and play and to access food, water and support and protection services. A Syrian child at a child-friendly space in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, near the town of Gevgelija, by the Greek border.

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These child and adult refugees and migrants from the reception centre in Gevgelija are on a train headed towards the border with Serbia. Although most children on the move are travelling with their parents, some adolescents are travelling in groups with friends.

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Many of them are fleeing violence, conflict and insecurity in their homeland. Munir Yousufi, 16, learning to shave, is on his own in Serbia. He fled violence in his hometown of Kunduz in Afghanistan.

“All of Afghanistan is too dangerous,” he said.
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Unaccompanied adolescent boys are among children most at risk of violence, abuse, exploitation and trafficking. Munir, living in a park by the main bus station, is stranded in Belgrade after running out of money.

“I am relying on other Afghans … until I can get enough to get to Germany.”
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In Germany, hundreds of refugees and migrants seeking asylum are arriving daily to be registered and receive legal documentation to remain in the country. A Syrian couple in a large crowd waits to be registered as asylum seekers in Berlin.

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At the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in Berlin, a man laughing with friends (left) has just received his paperwork. Behind them, other adults wait in a queue to get paperwork and for interviews towards obtaining official refugee status.

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Ali and Ahmad have also reached Germany and are now living in a child-care facility in the city of Braunschweig.

“It would have been better if my family were here. I would have felt more comforted,” said Ali, 17,who has taken on the adult role of caring for his 15-year-old brother.
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“My dream is to be a man, a good man, with money, who is able to help the rest of the world, starting with my family,” Ali says.

The exodus to Europe is growing steadily — and is expected to affect not only host communities but also children’s rights and their futures.


View Munir’s video.

View the photo essay In Greece, a sea of arrivals.

View the photo essay In search of hope.

View the photo essay Facing an uncertain future.

Learn more about the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe. #FightUnfair

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