UNICEF calls for greater attention to the plight of unaccompanied children on the move through Southeast Europe

ZAGREB/ GENEVA, 13 October – Hundreds of unaccompanied children are still on the move through Southeast Europe despite official border closures, yet little is known of their fate, says UNICEF, as a sub-regional conference on attending to the needs of this vulnerable group of children gets underway in Croatia.
“All too often, unaccompanied children slip through the cracks in the child protection system – they go unnoticed, unregistered and uncared for,” said Jean Claude Legrand, Senior Regional Advisor on Child Protection in the UNICEF Regional Office for Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. “Because the system is failing them, unaccompanied children take matters into their own hands to avoid procedural delays or detention, which exposes them to great dangers.”
In spite of border closures and tightened migration policies and agreements, unaccompanied children are taking increased risks to continue their journey to Western Europe. Resorting to smugglers, some continue through the Western Balkans, while others choose alternate irregular routes.
Since the closing of the Western Balkan migration route, the number of children arriving in Bulgaria has risen fivefold, from 193 in March, to 906 in August and approximately 50 percent of them were unaccompanied. Most have been unlawfully detained, either together with adults who are not relatives or alone and they were only released once they applied for asylum. Moreover, in early September, two children died and another two went missing, when their boat capsized trying to cross the Danube into Romania.
Since June 2016, an estimated 250 refugees and migrants have continued to arrive into Serbia on a daily basis and 37% are children. In September, social workers identified and supported at least 148 unaccompanied and separated children.
The Greek government is working closely with humanitarian agencies to ensure that unaccompanied children spend as little time as possible in closed facilities. However, due to the slow pace of relocation and resettlement scheme, as well as insufficient or inadequate accommodation facilities, at the end of September, up to 60 percent of unaccompanied children registered in Greece were still on the waiting list for accommodation.
Identification, family tracing and reunification, providing adequate accommodation and legal support, as well as guardianship for unaccompanied children have proven challenging for governments in Southeast Europe.
While acknowledging for the care of unaccompanied and separated children, UNICEF expects that the conference in Croatia will contribute to a faster process of family reunification, improved guardianship and an end to detention of children based on their migration status.
UNICEF reminds States of their obligation to monitor what happens to unaccompanied children and make sure national policies and laws are tailored to their best interests. 
The two-day event - On the Move and Alone: how to respond effectively to the needs of unaccompanied and separated children in Southeast Europe – aims to build on good practices, improve cross-border cooperation, strengthen national child protection systems and better contingency planning across the region. It is organized by the Government of Croatia, with the support of UNICEF.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: http://www.unicef.org.au
For more information, contact: 
Gorana Dojčinović, UNICEF Croatia, gdojcinovic@unicef.org, +385 98 22 66 81
Claudia Liute, UNICEF Geneva, cliute@unicef.org, +41 79 834 74 01
Sarah Crowe, UNICEF Geneva, scrowe@unicef.org, +41 79 543 80 29
Nicole Lawrence, UNICEF Australia, nlawrence@unicef.org.au, +61 419 748 624