Half of global refugees are children, says Unicef

Report shows child refugee figures jumped by 75 per cent in five years to 8 million, calls for international action to protect the 50 million young migrants worldwide  

New and reignited conflicts have forced a more than 75 per cent jump in the number of child refugees since 2010, according to a Unicef report, with children now making up half of the world’s refugees.

Two countries – Syria and Afghanistan – account for nearly 50 per cent of the 8 million children under protection by the UN refugee agency UNHCR, while three-quarters of the world’s refugees hail from only 10 countries.

Driven from their homes by war and violence, these children are at greater risk of trafficking, sexual abuse, recruitment by armed groups, and other forms of abuse, the report warns.

“Many of the youngest refugees have known only conflict and deprivation in their short lives,” said Unicef’s executive director, Anthony Lake. “Though many communities and people around the world have welcomed refugee and migrant children, xenophobia, discrimination, and exclusion pose serious threats to their lives and futures.

“But if young refugees are accepted and protected today, if they have the chance to learn and grow, and to develop their potential, they can be a source of stability and economic progress.”

The Unicef report - which gathers together the latest data regarding childhood migration - shows that globally some 50 million children have crossed borders or been forcibly displaced in their own countries. Of these, 28 million have been driven from their homes by violence and conflict, and 11 million are refugees or asylum seekers.

More and more of these children are crossing borders on their own, the report warns. In 2015, more than 100,000 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in 28 countries; triple the number seen in 2014.

“Today, nearly 1 in 200 children in the world is a refugee"Unicef UK is calling on the UK government to increase its efforts to ensure children stranded in Europe can reach their families in the UK, and to offer more settlement places to young refugees. The report also urges the global community to take steps to protect child migrants, to improve their access to healthcare and education, to end the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating, and to keep families together.

“Today, nearly 1 in 200 children in the world is a refugee,” said Lily Caprani, Unicef UK deputy executive director. “In the last few years, we have seen huge numbers of children being forced to flee their homes and take dangerous, desperate journeys, often on their own. Children on the move are at risk of the worst forms of abuse and harm, and can easily fall victim to traffickers and other criminals.”