Fears for unaccompanied migrant children grow

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A boy carrying his belongings in a large cloth bag over his shoulder is among people walking on railway tracks to cross from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia into Serbia. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2015-2203/Georgiev

Unaccompanied child migrants and refugees are increasingly vulnerable to abuse, as the European winter approaches, according to a UN spokesperson.

Christopher Boulierac, of the UN Children's Agency (UNICEF) said the number of children travelling alone from countries like Syria and Afghanistan was increasing.

He said European countries they were travelling through, were being overwhelmed, but the UN had a duty to offer children extra support.

Matthew Wells reports.

Child refugees and migrants travelling alone, often arrive on the edge of Europe suffering from exhaustion, and in need of medical help. They may try to avoid registration in an effort to reach their destination countries quickly, said Mr Boulierac.

It was difficult to know the scale of the problem therefore, and government agencies needed to pay special attention to children of all ages, with the onset of winter weather he said:

"When you have unaccompanied children on the move, this level of vulnerability increases dramatically. These children need to be protected. Our main focus is really to provide them with support, to make sure they are not abused, because the possibilities of abuse are numerous."

He said the concerns for children desperately trying to join relatives in host countries, were compounded by the huge strain the migration was placing on all the whole continent.

Basic services for the most vulnerable refugees in the Balkan countries and Greece, were close to breaking point.

Matthew Wells, United Nations.

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