New publication – December 5 2017

Let children be children: Integrating refugee children

A new report offers lessons on the protection and integration of refugee children

SOS Children's Villages works to ensure that child refugees receive care and protection. A current study explores how child protection services in countries across Europe are working with some of the migrants seeking to rebuild their lives in a new country.

A new research report launched by SOS Children’s Villages and Eurochild aims to help child protection services from countries across Europe to respond to the needs of refugee and migrant children, including children travelling without their family.

Experts who contributed to the report, which is composed of 16 different comprehensive case studies, focusing on unaccompanied children and those who work with them, took part in a panel debate with EU institutional and civil society actors hosted by the European Committee of the Regions in Brussels this week.

The EU’s statistical office estimates that 1.2 million people applied for asylum in Europe in 2016. Children accounted for one-quarter of applicants.

The report – Let Children be Children: Lessons from the Field on the Protection and Integration of Refugee and Migrant Children in Europe - explores how professionals dealing with migrant and refugee children seek to empower them as they try to rebuild their lives in a new country. This includes supporting them as they go through asylum and family reunification procedures and adapt to new schools and societies.

“We very much hope that the practices in this report will assist policymakers and practitioners to identify shortcomings and to develop and implement workable solutions that ensure all children can access their right to quality care, regardless of whether they carry the ‘refugee’ label with all its connotations,” said Ana Fontal, Global Refugee Coordinator for SOS Children’s Villages International.

The study documents work carried out in Austria, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Serbia, Slovakia, Sweden, The Netherlands and United Kingdom.

Reforming child protection systems to meet the needs of child migrants

Greece has been a major host country throughout the migration crisis. Current figures suggest that around 60,000 refugees and migrants have become stranded on the mainland and islands since the closure of legal migration channels through the Western Balkans route in March 2016.

By November 2017, some 3,300 unaccompanied and separated children were estimated to be living in Greece. While hundreds have been allocated suitable accommodation, thousands are waiting in refugee camps, closed centres and police stations.

"Although at first there were several thoughts in my mind about whether to stay or leave the shelter, my decision to stay was the best and I'm really grateful for that. I wished our house here was even bigger in order to have more children facing big problems as the ones I did," said a 16-year-old boy from Afghanistan living in Greece.

The boy from Afghanistan was among the children and young people interviewed as part of the research for the report.

Children on the move share their experiences

Experts say there has been a notable rise in lone child migrants arriving in Europe. In Italy, almost 95% of those arriving in the country between January and March of this year were unaccompanied or separated from their families. 

Children fleeing unrest in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are often detained once they arrive in Europe. They often face social exclusion and isolation.

“I am a fighter. I fight for life. I had nothing when I came to Germany. I had to learn to grow up quickly. I could no longer be a child. I have been an adult since I turned 15,” said a 19-year-old boy from Syria living in Germany with his younger brother.

SOS Children’s Villages provides care, legal, psychological and instructional assistance to nurture children’s skills and to help them regain trust in the future.

“It is important to see that all sort of opportunities exist here. The other thing that I like about living in Finland is peace. It is safe here. There is no war. Life is good,” said one 17-year-old unaccompanied child from Afghanistan.

SOS Children’s Villages specialists say that children need to regain a sense of normality in order to develop.

“The interest and goodwill of the local community has been fantastic,” said Kalliopi Gkliva, Project Manager for SOS Greece’s Refugee Emergency Relief Programme.

“I have learnt that no matter what the situation, humanity will prevail. I have also seen children make rapid progress when they get the right care. In one case, a young boy from Iran got 97% on a maths examination and became an example to other children. This makes me proud of the work that we do,” she added.


Let children be children

Lessons from the Field on the Protection and Integration of Refugee and Migrant Children in Europe

The case studies in this report provide guidance on how the child rights framework can be brought to life for all children in Europe, no matter where they come from.

Learn more about how SOS Children’s Villages helps child refugees and their families

Read a commentary report by Ana Fontal, Global Refugee Coordinator at SOS Children’s Villages International: