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The New Arab

A harsh winter threatens the lives of child refugees

In 2015, more than one million crossed the Mediterranean arriving on Europe’s shores [Getty]

Date of publication: 22 January, 2016

With children now accounting for thousands of refugees and migrants flooding into Europe, UNICEF has voiced concern at the impact recent sub-zero temperatures and snowy conditions will have on them.

Children arriving into a harsh winter in southeastern Europe are physically exhausted, scared, distressed and often in need of medical assistance, a leading humanitarian agency has warned.

The recent sub-zero temperatures and sometimes snowy conditions is exacerbating the children’s poor physical condition as many children on the move do not have adequate clothing, or access to age-appropriate nutrition, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said.

This has been worsened by the lack of shelter and inadequate heating in some reception centres as well as buses and trains, it added.

The issue was pressing as the proportion of children amongst refugees and migrants – now more than one in three – has continued to increase.

Children were coming ashore on the Greek island of Lesbos wearing only T-shirts and soaking wet after travelling on unseaworthy rubber dinghies, the charity Save the Children said in a statement.

Thousands travelling along the migration route through Turkey and southeastern Europe are at risk from a sustained spell of freezing weather with forecasts below-normal temperatures and heavy snowfall in the next two weeks in the eastern Balkan peninsula, Turkey, the eastern Mediterranean and Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan.

Asked if children could freeze to death, Christophe Boulierac, spokesman for UNICEF said, "The risk is clearly very, very high."

Asked if children could freeze to death, Christophe Boulierac, spokesman for UNICEF said, 'The risk is clearly very, very high'

Children are particularly susceptible to respiratory infections, digestive problems and diarrhea, UNICEF’s Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe, Marie-Pierre Poirier said.

In 2015, more than one million refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean, arriving on Europe’s shores, of which an estimated 253,700 – or one in four – were children. 

In December most children transiting through UNICEF child-friendly spaces in Serbia were young children, including babies and infants and those between five to nine years old.

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