Brutal weather put migrant children at risk in Europe – UNICEF

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UNITED NATIONS, Jan 21 (APP): With extreme cold weather and
storms sweeping Europe, refugee and migrant children are threatened
by respiratory and other serious illnesses, according to the United
Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“Without proper shelter and warm clothing, young children are
in real danger because of the severe weather,” Basil Rodriques,
UNICEF Regional Health Advisor for Central and Eastern Europe, said
in a statement.
The UN agency pointed out that in Greece and the Balkans,
an estimated 23,700 refugee and migrant children – including
infants and newborns mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan –
remain stranded. Many are being housed in shelters that are
ill-equipped for winter, even as temperatures fall below
freezing.
Some parts of Greece, especially the islands sheltering
thousands of refugees in flimsy tents, have experienced heavy
snowfall for the first time in years. UNICEF continues to call
for refugees and migrants currently living in overcrowded and
underserviced camps on the islands to be moved to more
appropriate and safe accommodations on the mainland.
“Infants and the very young generally have less body fat
to insulate them against the cold, making them more susceptible
to respiratory problems and potentially fatal viral and bacterial
infections such as pneumonia and influenza,” Rodriques pointed out.
Overcrowding and poor insulation make the shelters
particularly unhealthy, allowing respiratory diseases to spread
quickly when cold weather hits. According to the World Health
Organization (WHO), Europe’s influenza season is already underway.
“Apart from the cold weather, the health risks children are
facing are a consequence of their plight as refugees and migrants,
the victims of uncertainty and of backlogs in processing their
claims to asylum,” Rodriques said, adding “This state of limbo
impacts on children’s health, compounding their hardship.”
UNICEF’s ongoing winterization efforts throughout Croatia,
Serbia, Slovenia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
are helping women and children stay warm by distributing winter
clothing and other essential items.
In Bulgaria, UNICEF has supported 1,100 children in reception
centres with winter clothes and boots. Since late 2015-2016 in
the Balkans child and family support hubs, child-friendly spaces
and mother and baby corners were transformed from the initial
light structures into winterized and heated pre-fab and container structures, or have since moved into hard/permanent structures.