Nearly 75,000 refugees and migrants, including an estimated 24,600 children, currently stranded in Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Western Balkans are at risk of psychosocial distress caused by living in a protracted state of limbo, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned on Thursday.
“We are seeing single mothers and children stranded in Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria who have not seen their husbands and fathers for months or even years,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe.
“The family reunification process is slow, and its outcome uncertain and it is this uncertainty which can cause significant emotional distress and anxiety for children and families, setting them back for years to come,” she added.
In many cases, adult males are the first family members to make the trip to Europe, with the rest of the family following later.
Most stranded asylum seekers do not know whether or when they will be permitted to move forward. The situation is particularly acute for single mothers and children stuck in Greece or the Balkans waiting for reunification with family members in other EU countries.
But with the 2016 border closures and implementation of the EU-Turkey statement, other family members are being held up in transit countries from where they must apply for family reunification with their loved ones – a process that typically takes between 10 months and two years.