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Refugee children in Europe at risk as temperatures plummet to -20 °C

Refugees crossing the Macedonia Serbia border in freezing conditions
Refugees walk through the night across the Macedonia-Serbia border in the snow and freezing cold conditions. They are travelling towards the reception centre in the town of Presevo, Serbia.

Thousands of child refugees and their families have made the perilous journey across Europe in search of safety this year.

We’ve heard stories of children falling out of boats, children who are travelling alone disappearing – some into the hands of traffickers, others working as prostitutes – and of course, children drowning.

But today, as temperatures are forecast to drop as low as – 20°c on the border between Macedonia and Serbia – a route used my many refugees – children and their families now face the threat of hypothermia and pneumonia as they travel across Europe.

Children battling the cold

Aid workers on the ground in Presevo on the Serbian border – where there are six inches of snow on the ground – say that children are arriving with blue lips, shaking from the cold and clearly distressed.

Mothers say that they can’t keep their babies dry, and that they’re slipping over while carrying them on the icy roads.

Forced to walk long distances and even sleep outside in this bitterly cold weather, many children at reception centres have high fevers and respiratory problems, according to our staff on the ground.

Refugees in Serbia
Rabia* takes shelter with her daughter Yasmin*, four months, and son Abdel*, one year nine months, in a tent outside the registration centre in Presevo. Rabia* and her partner Mohamed* left the Kurdish region of Syria in August 2015.

A dangerous journey

Nasir* fled the war in Syria five months ago with his wife and small children.

He told our staff that he attempted the crossing from Turkey to Greece twice – on the first attempt someone had drowned.

“It was extremely cold, everything was wet, the babies were ill. We threw our bags off the boat to stop it from sinking any further,” he says.

“Sometimes I fear for my children.”

Despite the freezing weather, many refugees are making the journey every day. In Lesvos, where it is currently snowing, children are arriving off the rubber dinghies wearing only t-shirts.

More must be done

We’re running a ‘Safe Space’ shelter in Presevo where mothers and babies, and children who are travelling alone can stay for the night.

We’re also handing out children’s rain jackets, socks and shoes, as well as hot drinks and hygiene items.

But these children and their families desperately need more to be done, to help them on what was already an incredibly long, hard and risky journey.

Save the Children worker Valentia Bollenback, who is currently in Presevo, says: “Instead of focusing on closing their borders, Europe’s government should be doing more to give people fleeing war a dignified and humane reception.”

Donate now to help us provide refugees with warm clothes and safe spaces.

*Names changed to protect identities.

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