Orlando today met children during a visit to a refugee and migrant reception centre near Gevgelija in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, at the border with Greece. He listened to stories of their perilous journeys, their concerns and hopes for the future. Many of them have escaped violence in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
"These children have travelled through one of the deadliest refugee and migrant routes in the world. I talked to children who endured terrifying journeys, often in extreme weather conditions and for many, walking in the only shoes and clothes they have. They are being shuttled from one authority to another, crossing numerous borders, uncertain of the risks ahead. If they arrive safely at their final destination, they still fear an uncertain future. We need to protect and support them," Bloom said.
Tarek, 17, from Syria was among the many children and young people Orlando met. He spoke about the terror of the boat trip from Turkey to Greece and about the pain of leaving his entire family in Damascus. Like many unaccompanied minors on the move in Europe, he is traveling with another Syrian family he met after saving their ten year old daughter Yaraman from drowning during the perilous journey. While Tarek praised the humanity of the support staff at the child friendly space to Bloom, he also expressed his deep distress and despair of not knowing what the future holds for him.
“Europe is facing one of its greatest crises in recent times as people are fleeing the areas of conflicts which are left unresolved. We must provide services in countries where children are on the move, and in countries of origin and destination, for play, healthcare and protection. We must put children’s best interests at the heart of our action and ensure families are kept together throughout their journey. We cannot fail these children,” said Rajae Msefer Berrada, Deputy Representative for UNICEF in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Earlier scenes of chaos at the border have now greatly improved. However, a large number of people, including children and women, are not being registered at the border. This raises concerns that those who need help may not have access to the services that they need. At the reception centre near Gevgelija, children now have access to a safe place to rest, play and receive food and water, warm clothes, sanitation and the hygiene and protection services that they need through UNICEF-supported services.
Nearly 100,000 people – with one third women and children – have been registered at the border at Gevgelija since June this year. As the crisis continues to grow, UNICEF estimates that as many as 320,000 women and children fleeing to Europe could be in need to assistance over the next six months.