Ukraine Child Refugee

A Ukrainian girl arrives in Siret, Romania on March 19, 2022 after fleeing Ukraine with her mother. (Photo: Israel Fuguemann/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

UNICEF Urges Stronger Protections as 1.5 Million Ukrainian Children Flee War

"Displaced children are extremely vulnerable to being separated from their families, exploited, and trafficked."

The United Nations children's agency said Saturday that more than 1.5 million children have fled Ukraine since Russian forces invaded, while calling on the international community to protect child refugees facing a "heightened risk of trafficking and exploitation."

"With more than 1.5 million children having fled Ukraine as refugees since February 24, and countless others displaced by violence inside the country, the threat facing children is real and growing."

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned that "traffickers often seek to exploit the chaos of large-scale population movements, and with more than 1.5 million children having fled Ukraine as refugees since February 24, and countless others displaced by violence inside the country, the threat facing children is real and growing."

The agency said that "more than 500 unaccompanied children were identified crossing from Ukraine into Romania" from February 24 to March 17, and that "the true number of separated children who have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries is likely much higher."

Afshan Khan, UNICEF's Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement that "displaced children are extremely vulnerable to being separated from their families, exploited, and trafficked. They need governments in the region to step up and put measures in place to keep them safe."

Working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, governments, and civil society groups, UNICEF has established so-called "Blue Dots" in six nearby nations: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. The agency described "Blue Dots" as "one-stop safe spaces for children and women" that "provide key information to traveling families, help to identify unaccompanied and separated children and ensure their protection, and provide a hub for essential services."

UNICEF is calling on the governments of neighboring and destination countries to "strengthen child protection screenings at border crossings, especially those with Ukraine, to better identify at-risk children."

"In addition, UNICEF is calling on governments to improve cross-border collaboration and knowledge exchange between and among border control, law enforcement, and child protection authorities and to quickly identify separated children and implement family tracing and reunification procedures for children deprived of parental care."

The UNICEF warning comes a day after various United Nations organizations reported that nearly 10 million Ukrainians--or almost a quarter of Ukraine's population--have been displaced by the war.

Amid Russia's relentless assault on Ukraine's cities and towns, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said Saturday that 64 children were among the 847 Ukrainian civilians killed during the course of the war. However, OHCHR and others have stressed that the actual number of civilian casualties is almost certainly much higher.

In the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, authorities on Friday placed 109 empty baby strollers arranged in rows in the central square--one for each child Ukrainian officials say has been killed since the start of the war.

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