Last year, the world collectively gasped at the image of the Syrian refugee child, Alan Kurdi, as it went viral. The heartbreaking photo of the boy’s body on the beach captured the story of the child refugee, and very quickly it became the story of child refugees everywhere.
And now, with the release of a report from UNICEF documenting the plight of child refugees, we know just how dire the situation is.
“Each picture, each girl or boy, represents many millions of children in danger — and many millions of children who have left their homes. This demands that our compassion for the individual children we see be matched with urgent — and sustained — action for all child refugees and migrants,” said UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake in an introduction to the report.
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Titled “Uprooted,” the 140-page report presents disturbing evidence of the impact of displacement on children, arguing that “no matter how they move or how they arrive, children are at the centre of the world’s population movements.”
Since 2005, the report says, the number of child refugees has doubled. As many as 28 million children have been displaced to date, with a staggering 77% increase in child refugees in just the past five years.
According to data from the UN, while children only make up a third of the global population, they make up “about half of all refugees.” What’s worse is that more and more, children are daring these voyages on their own.
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The report also broke down which countries have been taking in refugees.
In Lebanon, the report showed, one in five people are refugees, whereas in Turkey, the number was a little over 1 in 20. In the United Kingdom, meanwhile, roughly 1 in 530 people are refugees. In the United States? 1 in 1,200.
The reasons for the increase in child migration vary. Children, disproportionately, are affected by the world’s conflicts — be they civil conflict, economic downturn, or environmental calamity. In continents like Africa, a compounding of these issues — such as floods in areas of civil war — exacerbated displacement, the report also suggests. However, these were “far from the only factors.”
Regionally, conflict zones directly related to the number of child refugees. According to the UNICEF report, Syria accounted for 30% of child refugees, while Afghanistan accounted for 17%. Collectively, displacement caused by insecurity in those two countries tells the story of almost half of the child refugees in the world.
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The UNICEF report suggested that the solid data is crucial to be able to respond to the crisis.
“Without reliable data, evidence-based debates and policymaking are impaired,” said UNICEF, adding that they “intended to bring the faces of children into clearer focus in the global picture of migration and displacement.”
The report also included some silver linings. It suggests migration could be good for the economy. UNICEF cited research showing that countries who allow migrants to leave greatly benefit from remittance flows of money to their parent country.
“Migrants who move from countries with a low HDI value (Human Development Index) to a HDI value experience, on average, a 15-fold increase in income, a doubling in education enrolment rates, and a 16-fold reduction in child mortality,” said the report.
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Adopted countries stand to benefit, too. According to one study, migrant work actually stimulated innovation and economic growth by filling labor gaps. The study hesitated, however, to conclude that migration is always good for the migrant families themselves.
The report’s release pre-empts the convention of the UN General Assembly, which begins on Sept. 13. As dignitaries and lawmakers address the migrant crisis, UNICEF’s report will surely push them to consider the dynamic problem of child migration. And, when they talk about refugees, will force them to consider how many children their decisions affect: 28 million.