Refugees and Migrants – December 16 2022

Protecting the rights of migrant children is humane, and it benefits us all

By Dr. Dereje Wordofa

What do you hear when someone says migrant? For some, it’s a neutral expression for a person who moves from one place to another, typically to find work or better living conditions. For others, it invokes fear – fear of the unknown, of outsiders, a potential threat.  That fear is increasingly used to dehumanize those seeking a better life for themselves, their families, and especially their children. It should not be allowed to fester.

No human chooses their place of birth, and sometimes, they have no choice but to leave that place behind. The reasons are many and varied - conflict, climate change, lack of economic prospects or no religious freedom. 

This is especially serious for children. They have the right to particular care and compassion, yet when they are forced to move in search of a better life, alone or with their families, they often suffer the most. In 2021, there were approximately 153.000 unaccompanied or separated children[1] who face severe threats and who are in need of our support. Alone, they risk being trafficked, exploited and abused.  

The international community needs to uphold the right of migrant children and their families – 281 million in total, 36.5 million of them children – to live a safe and fulfilling life.

That should start by ending the practice of detaining children. Overcrowded camps and isolated reception centres are no place for a child to see, let alone grow up in. Such practices have a detrimental impact on their mental health for the rest of their life. Every migrant child has the right to humane treatment. They deserve a safe place where they can thrive and the chance at a normal childhood.

A child is a child. Regardless of their origin or status, children should have equal access to seek protection, full access to health care and education, and they should receive immediate quality alternative care if they are unaccompanied or separated from their families. When a child or young person is alone, authorities should work tirelessly to reunite them with their siblings and family in a place where it is safe for them to grow up.

The protection of the rights of migrant children and their families requires international cooperation and partnerships beyond politics and borders.

We have proven it can be done. SOS Children’s Villages in Peru, Colombia, and Brazil have built effective partnerships with other international organizations, governments, and the private sector to support Venezuelan migrants. In cooperation with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, families are housed and cared for by SOS Children’s Villages. The joint program provides quality shelter, protection, medical attention, and it keeps families and siblings together.  

These partnerships and cooperations are vital for many migrant families. For example, a young Venezuelan family that fled to Brazil due to a political crisis, poverty, and abuse in their home country. But even in their new home they faced an uncertain future. In partnership with the UNHCR, this family reached the doors of SOS Children’s Villages in Rio Bonito, where they found shelter, care, and a chance at a fresh start together as a loving family.  

Meanwhile in Ukraine, working in collaboration with local community-based organizations, thousands of Ukrainian families and children receive humanitarian assistance, including accommodation, mental health and psychosocial support. Hundreds of children who were in alternative care in Ukraine now live with their caregivers in SOS Children’s Villages in more than 10 countries. Similarly, we work with children from around the world who have migrated within their continents or across the globe.

Whether directly and indirectly forced into migration, we should respect and support migrants on their journey toward a fulfilled life. International Migrants Day reminds us all to unite in our shared humanity, and to help our fellow humans on the move, especially the most vulnerable, children.

Protecting and supporting migrant children and young people safeguards their rights, offers one of the most powerful things we can give a person – opportunity – and it contributes to a more stable future for everyone. 


Dr. Dereje Wordofa is the President of SOS Children’s Villages International.

[1] UNHCR (December 2022): Protecting Refugee Children – Background Guide Challenge 2,