Unaccompanied and separated children fleeing the escalating conflict in Ukraine must be protected

NEW YORK/GENEVA, March 7, 2022 – Over the past week, more than a million people have been forced to flee Ukraine in search of safety and protection. Among them are hundreds of thousands of children. Many of these refugee children are unaccompanied or have been separated from their parents or relatives.

While children without parental care are at increased risk of violence, abuse and exploitation, the risks are multiplied when these children are taken abroad. The risk of human trafficking is also exacerbated in emergency situations.

In addition, UNICEF and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) call on all neighboring and affected countries to ensure that unaccompanied and separated children who are currently fleeing Ukraine are promptly identified and registered as soon as they are granted entry to Ukraine allowed their territory.

States are also encouraged to establish safe places to receive children and their families once they have crossed the border and ensure connectivity with national child protection systems. The current emergency also requires a rapid capacity building of emergency departments through the use of certified staff as well as other key child protection services, such as

Temporary placement in foster care or other community-based care structures through a government mechanism can provide critical protection for children who have been displaced outside the country without their families. No adoption process should take place during or immediately after an emergency. Every effort should be made to reunite children with their families whenever possible when such reunion is in their best interest.

In Ukraine, almost 100,000 children, half of them with disabilities, are cared for in homes or live in boarding schools. Many of these children have surviving family members or legal representatives. However, there are reports reaching us that institutions are trying to move children away from conflict to neighboring countries or elsewhere abroad. While we recognize that humanitarian evacuations can save lives in certain circumstances, and while we applaud the efforts being made to keep children safe, it is nonetheless essential to take specific action that takes children’s best interests into account and obtain the consent of children from their parents or persons responsible for them. Under no circumstances should families be separated for transfer or evacuation.

The guardians of children being cared for in institutions in Ukraine must therefore ensure that evacuations are carried out in accordance with the instructions of the national authorities. Movements must be reported to the relevant authorities in Ukraine and neighboring countries immediately after crossing the border, and evacuated children must, if possible, be in possession of an identity card and their care record.

UNHCR and UNICEF are grateful for the solidarity and responsiveness of States in establishing referral mechanisms to rescue unaccompanied and separated children. In this context, it is important to remember that unaccompanied children, who are separated from their families, are particularly vulnerable and that their immediate needs and their safety, wherever they are, must be the top priority in the short term, while medium and long term solutions be found based on the welfare of the children.

UNHCR and UNICEF are committed to working together to help national authorities protect children and put their safety at the heart of their actions.

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