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By UNICEF Australia
26 May 2023

UNICEF is still there to protect children

Every child deserves to be safe and protected. After the horrors of World War II, UNICEF was established with one clear mission: to help children and young people whose lives and futures were at risk.  

What mattered to UNICEF then was reaching every child in need and protecting children’s rights to survive, thrive, and reach their full potential in the aftermath of years of war. Today, more than seven decades later, our mission remains the same.  

Sadly, the needs are greatest than ever and there are more children in need of humanitarian assistance than at any other time, even since World War II. The record number of children impacted is a result of cascading crises across the globe, all the way from Afghanistan to Ukraine.  

More than 400 million children live in areas under conflict; an estimated 1 billion children – nearly half the world’s children – live in countries at extreme vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and 8 million children under the age of five across 15 crisis-hit countries are at risk of death from severe wasting. 

By the end of 2022, 43.3 million children had been displaced from their homes, a record high number that has doubled in the last decade. Over half of the world's refugees are children, and as a result of cascading emergencies today, we have more displaced children and families than at any other time in history. 

In Greece, 1949, refugee children peer out the window of a makeshift hut whose walls are made from cardboard boxes.

1949, Greece

Refugee children peer out the window of a makeshift hut whose walls are made from cardboard boxes.

In Ukraine, 2022, a little girl peers out from a window as she waits inside an evacuation train to Poland, at Lviv train station.

2022, Ukraine

A little girl peers out from a window as she waits inside an evacuation train to Poland, at Lviv train station.

The need to support and protect the world’s children has only grown, and the photos captured by our teams worldwide echo images from when UNICEF was first established to help children, no matter where they are. 

Travelling to safety 

By the end of World War II, the world had seen millions of families and children leaving their homes in search of safety, peace and protection.   

Since the war in Ukraine began in 2022, more than 2 million Ukrainian children have fled the country and more than 1 million children have been displaced inside Ukraine. 

Families have flocked to train stations or taken to foot on long, dangerous and freezing journeys to reach safety. Once they cross the border, they can finally receive essential support and protection from harm. 

"The war (in Ukraine) has caused one of the fastest large-scale displacements of children since World War II."

Catherine Russell
UNICEF Executive Director
In 1946, inside Germany, a small displaced girl is wrapped in blankets and sits on a mound of other refugee belongings.

1946, Germany

A small displaced girl is wrapped in blankets and sits on a mound of other refugee belongings.

In 2022, young Valeria arrives in Romania with limited belongings seeking shelter from the conflict that started in her home country of Ukraine less than a week before. © UNICEF/UN0599229/Moldovan

2022, Romania

Young Valeria arrives in Romania with limited belongings seeking shelter

During this journey, keeping warm in harsh winter conditions is essential for children’s survival.   

In 1946, refugee children wore clothes donated by the citizens of host countries to stay warm and protected in harsh conditions. In 2023, thanks to the generosity of our supporters, UNICEF is similarly assisting children by delivering warm clothes, blankets and other emergency supplies in Ukraine.   

In response to ongoing and urgent needs, our teams on the ground are delivering life-saving supplies to children and families.  

Receiving essential supplies

Conflict has devastating consequences for children's access to essential services in places like Syria, just like it did 77 years ago.  

In Syria, children living through twelve years of war, cholera outbreak and harsh winter conditions, face yet another tragedy following the earthquakes in February 2023.   

Nearly 7 million Syrian children are facing one of the most complex humanitarian crises in the world. The scars of conflict, mass displacement, and economic turmoil run deep for the children and families in the region, with 90 per cent of families already living in poverty. 

Across the country, many local volunteers are coming together in solidarity, responding to conflict by creating safe spaces for children and distributing essential supplies. 

In Poland, 1946, a nun serves bowls of soup to a group of children who get their only meal for the day at this UNRRA-supplied kitchen in the Slask Dabrowski district. UNRRA (later UNICEF) boxes are by her feet. © UNICEF/UNI43101/Kubicki

1946, Poland

A nun serves bowls of soup to a group of children who get their only meal for the day at this UNRRA-supplied kitchen.

Five-year-old Huda holds up a box of nutrition supplements supplied by a UNICEF-supported mobile clinic.

2023, Syria

Five-year-old Huda holds up a box of nutrition supplements supplied by a UNICEF-supported mobile clinic.

UNICEF continues to work with local partners to provide, water, sanitation and education supplies for children impacted by conflict and disasters.  

We know that keeping children safe, healthy and experiencing moments of normalcy in such extreme circumstances is essential in their recovery from trauma.  

In Yugoslavia, 1946, three boys affected by World War II receive aid and support to continue learning in a school in the north-western region of Croatia. © UNICEF/UNI43103/Unknown

1946, Yugoslavia

Three boys affected by World War II receive aid and support to continue learning in a school.

Five-year-old Asma draws on the floor at the UNICEF kindergarten in the Rohingya refugee camps.

2022, Bangladesh

Five-year-old Asma draws on the floor at the UNICEF kindergarten in the Rohingya refugee camps.

Finding relief in Blue Dot centres

When conflict and displacement occur, women and children are at increased risk of gender-based violence, abuse, psychological distress, and family separation.  

Many of the displaced children that UNICEF support are often in shock, confused, and exhausted when they finally reach shelter.

In Poland, 1946, a refugee family returning from Rudki, south of the Ukrainian city of Lvov, rests on a pile of their belongings during their travel west to the farm that awaits them in the south-western Lower Silesia region. © UNICEF Archives

1946, Poland

A refugee family returning from Rudki, rests on a pile of their belongings.

Hawa cuddles her newborn. She delivered her baby at the temporary shelter after her family was displaced by conflict.

2023, Sudan

Hawa cuddles her newborn. She delivered her baby at the temporary shelter after her family was displaced by conflict.

To support the hundreds of thousands of families and children fleeing emergencies today, UNICEF has a unique and effective solution.  

In collaboration with local authorities in refuge countries, UNICEF and its partners have set up safe places at border crossings for children and families.  

‘Blue Dot’ centres provide respite, allowing families to reunite or rest in a safe space before continuing their journey.

In Egypt, 1946, refugee children, including two boys in a toy wagon made from salvaged wood, play in the UNRRA (later UNICEF) refugee camp in Tolumbat. Ante holding the teddy bear, is from Yugoslavia. © UNICEF/UNI43123/Mihanoff

1946, Egypt

Refugee children, including two boys in a toy wagon made from salvaged wood.

In Romania, 2022, 11-year-old Ukrainian Anastasia poses for a photograph with her new toy while in the UNICEF-supported Blue Dot centre, where her and her family receive emergency support after escaping escalating violence. © UNICEF/UN0627036/Nicodim

2022, Romania

Anastasia poses for a photograph with her new toy while in the UNICEF-supported Blue Dot centre

At Blue Dots, services include safe spaces for mothers, babies and children to learn, play and receive medical and psychosocial first aid.   

Families also receive legal services, protection of unaccompanied children, reunification services, access to accommodation and transport support.  

UNICEF is helping children and families in crisis

In Czechoslovakia, 1946, workers unload a shipment of 60,000 hatching eggs from a Veterans' Air Lines aeroplane in Prague, the capital. The eggs were donated to UNRRA (later UNICEF) as food aid. © UNICEF/UNI41888/Unknown

1946, Czechoslovakia

Workers unload a shipment of 60,000 hatching eggs from a Veterans' Air Lines aeroplane in Prague.

Two Afghan refugee children receive nappy kits for younger members of their families.

2022, Iran

Two Afghan refugee children receive nappy kits for younger members of their families.

Wherever children are caught in emergencies, UNICEF works to uphold their fundamental rights to protection, health care and education. We can get supplies to children within 48 hours.   

UNICEF has been working for more than 77 years and we continue to stay and protect children, no matter what. Our teams are working day and night to supply safe water and prepositioning health, hygiene, education and emergency supplies to children and families worldwide.  

By giving to our Children's Emergency Appeal, you can be a lifeline for children and families in need. 

A young boy in Gaza assesses the damage caused by recent airstrikes.
© UNICEF/UNI457832/El Baba

For children in crisis, every second counts

UNICEF is providing urgent assistance to children. But we can’t do it alone. We need your help today.

*The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was created in 1943 to assist with relief operations and global recovery from the devastation of World War II. Focusing primarily on Europe and China, it finally closed in 1949 as its mandate was subsumed in the long-term development work of other United Nations agencies. UNRRA's work for children was taken over by UNICEF, created on 11 December 1946.