More than half of children fleeing to Europe face danger on their journeys, survey finds

Friday 26 January 2024

  • Save the Children launches report with key findings from more than 500 refugees and migrants living in European host countries as EU leaders finalise detrimental new Pact on Migration and Asylum  
  • 56% of children from countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa who responded to Save the Children’s questionnaire reported feeling in danger on their way to Europe, with some children describing being beaten and threatened by border officials and police, and sleeping in forests. 
  • All of the children from Ukraine expressed missing their fathers in focus group discussions.   

 More than half of children fleeing into Europe reported feeling in danger on their long journeys from people smugglers, border officials and police, according to a report by Save the Children as EU leaders finalise new pact on migration. 

The child right’s organisation surveyed more than 500 refugee and migrant children and caregivers from 16 countries currently residing in Europe with the findings highlighting the challenges faced by those seeking protection in Europe after escaping violence in their home countries.  

The report, titled Hope and Harm, found 56% of children from Asia, the Middle East and Africa who responded to the survey, reported feeling in danger on their journey to Europe, with three in four children attributing this to encounters with police, one in two to border officials, and six in 10 to smugglers.  

Only 18% of refugee children from Ukraine surveyed felt in danger when fleeing to other European countries, with none citing threats from police or smugglers, but they reported facing bullying, a decline in confidence, and missing their fathers in their host countries.  

Children from countries such as Afghanistan and Syria reported being beaten and threatened by border officials and sleeping in forests and mountains. One child in Greece said: “I was beaten hard on my arm by the Greek police. They took all my clothes and sent us back to Türkiye.” 

Omar*, 18, from Syria had a similar experience when travelling to Europe aged 9 to escape war in his homeland.  

“The way here was extremely dangerous but we knew that if we stayed, then we would die anyway. Either way, it would be the same thing,” Omar said. “From Lebanon to Türkiye, it was legal. We travelled by plane. Then [we went] from Türkiye to Greece; it was dangerous. We tried three times.  Some [people] were kidnapped or beaten by police officers.”  

Omar and his siblings eventually took an overcrowded inflatable boat to Greece that sank 20 meters from the coastline. 

“I was small; I couldn't swim, and it was very deep. Thank God no one died,” said Omar, who eventually made it to Sweden, where he now has citizenship. “This is not a normal trip. I want to tell all politicians that they should ease the journey. No one would choose to die [on their way to Europe] if it wasn’t dangerous in their home country.” 

Despite the mistreatment some refugee and migrant children endured on their journeys, many of the children surveyed reported feeling safer in their host country than back home, with one child stating, there are now “no bombs, no rockets”.  

Save the Children said the new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum—a legislative reform that will shape the region’s future migration and asylum system once finalised early this year—doubles down on policies that lead to violations of children's rights. Under the new system, children arriving irregularly face the prospect of detention and limitations on their freedom of movement, adversely affecting their access to crucial services such as proper care, education, and health.

“Refugee children are putting everything on the line for a safer life in Europe– one without war or violence–only to face new dangers at its doorstep. So many children, including those who participated in this research, are being denied their basic rights, facing violence at borders, discrimination, inhumane conditions, and inadequate services. This is a scandal that must end,” said Tory Clawson, Save the Children’s Migration & Displacement Initiative Director. 

“Children on the move are children first and foremost, and must be treated with dignity and have their essential needs met, including their right to protection, education and access to quality physical and mental health support. The welcome of refugees from Ukraine has shown another way is possible, but the new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum is ignoring these lessons.”

Refugees from Ukraine benefit from a relatively straightforward journey to European host countries and enjoy the right to stay and work under the EU's Temporary Protection Directive or equivalent measures in non-EU nations. However, children from Ukraine reported facing increased discrimination, bullying, challenges with schooling, and a decline in confidence since leaving home. During focus group discussions, all children from Ukraine also expressed feelings of missing their fathers. 

Some refugees from Ukraine highlighted that their welcome in their host countries had changed over time, with one child stating: “If you go on the street speaking Ukrainian or Russian, they can pick on you. We have bad words written about Ukraine near our school.”  


  • Between September and November 2023, Save the Children conducted 18 focus groups involving 95 children across seven countries, interviewed 52 teachers in 11 countries, and gathered responses to a detailed questionnaire by over 222 children and 279 caregivers in 10 countries.  Focus group participants were from Afghanistan, Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Gambia, Iraq, Morocco, Syria and Ukraine. Respondents to the questionnaire were from Algeria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Ukraine, and are now all living in European host countries. Of children who responded to the questionnaire, 64% were boys and 36% girls. All children who participated in the research were over 12 years of age.   For instance, most of the children and caregivers who filled out Save the Children’s questionnaire are refugees from Ukraine (86% of caregivers and 68% of children), as are most of the focus group discussions, (12) compared to 6 focus group discussions with children from other countries. 
  • Save the Children’s report triangulates different sources to identify trends and reach conclusions about the wellbeing and experiences of refugee and migrant children in Europe, the policies that affect their wellbeing. The data from focus group discussions, interviews and questionnaires conducted for the purpose of this report are not representative and should not be generalized to all refugees in host countries in Europe.