• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

UNHCR says more attention needed for Afghan children on the move

Press Releases, 14 June 2010

Geneva, Monday 14 June 2010

Growing numbers of Afghan children are making a difficult and dangerous overland journey to Europe, travelling without their parents and exposed to dangers and human rights abuses, a new United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report has found. The report presents recommendations on how governments, including the government of Afghanistan, should respond to this complex issue.

More than 5,900 Afghan children, mostly boys, sought asylum in Europe last year, compared to 3,380 in 2008. Last year Afghan youth made up 45 percent of asylum claims from unaccompanied children, almost three times those made by Somalis, who comprised the second largest group. UNHCR believes that there are many other Afghan children on the move who do not apply for asylum.

UNHCR's study examines the reasons for the departures, the routes the children take, and their reception on arrival. It finds that while some children travel more or less directly from Afghanistan, others have lived for years in Iran or Pakistan.

Afghan youth are trying to reach Europe for reasons including the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and shrinking protection space in neighbouring countries. Individual experiences of war and human rights violations such as forced labour and kidnapping, combined with insecurity, widespread poverty, political instability, poor educational prospects and a declining hope for a brighter future are all fuelling the flows, as are expanding smuggling networks.

"Afghanistan appears to have turned a blind eye to the role of smugglers in irregular migration, including children. Afghan parents, families and communities have allowed and encouraged the departure of their children on hazardous journeys," the report states. It urges more action in Afghanistan to ensure that families are aware of the risks of putting their children in the hands of people smugglers.

UNHCR's study notes that Afghan youth arriving in Europe do not always receive the support they need. As a result, they often remain in the hands of the smugglers, who entice them to continue their journey. Large numbers of Afghan boys are among the inhabitants of makeshift settlements in places like Calais, France and Patras, Greece.

"These children face shocking hardships along the way," said Judith Kumin, UNHCR's Director for Europe. "But they feel an obligation to their families to continue their journey. As a result, they are victimized over and over again."

Not all Afghan youth arriving in Europe qualify as refugees, although many receive an international protection status. The report urges states to take into account the deteriorating security situation in parts of Afghanistan. Where return to Afghanistan is contemplated, it must be assessed whether this is in the child's best interest. The report underlines that family tracing, appropriate reception, guardianship and longterm integration opportunities on return are all important elements.

UNHCR released its research, "Trees Only Move in the Wind*: A Study of Unaccompanied Afghan Children in Europe" shortly after the European Commission presented its "Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors", which promotes a consistent approach to the treatment of unaccompanied children arriving in Europe from third countries.

The study involved interviews with 150 Afghan boys in France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and the UK, while the experiences of several dozen other youth in Turkey were also incorporated. Additional research undertaken by UNHCR's office in Sweden will be released soon.

* 'A tree does not move unless there is a wind' is an Afghan (Farsi) proverb, loosely meaning 'nothing happens without reason.'





Almost half the people of concern to UNHCR are children. They need special care.

Refworld – Children

Refworld – Children

This Special Feature on Child Protection is a comprehensive source of relevant legal and policy documents, practical tools and links to related websites.

The Children of Harmanli Face a Bleak Winter

Since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011, more than 2 million people have fled the violence. Many have made their way to European Union countries, finding sanctuary in places like Germany and Sweden. Others are venturing into Europe by way of Bulgaria, where the authorities struggle to accommodate and care for some 8,000 asylum-seekers, many of whom are Syrian. More than 1,000 of these desperate people, including 300 children, languish in an overcrowded camp in the town of Harmanli, 50 kilometres from the Turkish-Bulgarian border. These people crossed the border in the hope of starting a new life in Europe. Some have travelled in family groups; many have come alone with dreams of reuniting in Europe with loved ones; and still others are unaccompanied children. The sheer number of people in Harmanli is taxing the ability of officials to process them, let alone shelter and feed them. This photo essay explores the daily challenges of life in Harmanli.

The Children of Harmanli Face a Bleak Winter

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are children who have sought shelter in urban areas with their families. Unlike those in camps, refugees living in towns and cities in countries like Iraq, Turkey and Jordan often find it difficult to gain access to aid and protection. In a refugee camp, it is easier for humanitarian aid organizations such as UNHCR to provide shelter and regular assistance, including food, health care and education. Finding refugees in urban areas, let alone helping them, is no easy task.

In Iraq, about 100,000 of the 143,000 Syrian refugees are believed to be living in urban areas - some 40 per cent of them are children aged under 18 years. The following photographs, taken in the northern city of Erbil by Brian Sokol, give a glimpse into the lives of some of these young urban refugees. They show the harshness of daily life as well as the resilience, adaptability and spirit of young people whose lives have been overturned in the past two years.

Life is difficult in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The cost of living is high and it is difficult to find work. The refugees must also spend a large part of their limited resources on rent. UNHCR and its partners, including the Kurdish Regional Government, struggle to help the needy.

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Afghan Street Children Turn from Beggars to Beauticians

A UNHCR-funded project in Kabul, Afghanistan, is helping to keep returnee children off the streets by teaching them to read and write, give them room to play and offer vocational training in useful skills such as tailoring, flower making, and hairstyling.

Every day, Afghan children ply the streets of Kabul selling anything from newspapers to chewing gum, phone cards and plastic bags. Some station themselves at busy junctions and weave through traffic waving a can of smoking coal to ward off the evil eye. Others simply beg from passing strangers.

There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 street children in the Afghan capital alone. Among them are those who could not afford an education as refugees in Iran or Pakistan, and are unable to go to school as returnees in Afghanistan because they have to work from dawn to dusk to support their families. For the past seven years, a UNHCR-funded project has been working to bring change.

Posted on 12 November 2008

Afghan Street Children Turn from Beggars to Beauticians

Greece: The Refugees' Grandmother in Idomeni
Play video

Greece: The Refugees' Grandmother in Idomeni

From her small house in Idomeni, Greek grandmother Panagiota Vasileiadou, 82, saw first-hand the bare need of refugees desperate for food to feed their children or clean water to shower and wash their clothes. As a daughter of ethnic Greek refugees herself - who left Turkey in a population exchange after the 1919-1922 Greco-Turkish war - she is now doing all she can to help the latest wave of refugees by giving out food and clothes.
Greece: Health risk to refugee children in IdomeniPlay video

Greece: Health risk to refugee children in Idomeni

Some 10,000 refugees and migrants remain camped out at an informal site at Greece's northern border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The makeshift home is also home to an estimated 4,000 children, the majority of whom are under the age of five. Doctors warn conditions in the camp are becoming dangerous for children.
Syria: Homs war children find home in abandoned hotelPlay video

Syria: Homs war children find home in abandoned hotel

After five years of conflict that destroyed their spacious children's home in Wa'ar, dozens of orphaned and abandoned children had to relocate to a small former hotel in nearby Homs. The abandoned hotel has limited dormitories, no playgrounds or classroom.