At UNHCR, we press for concerted European action to prevent the loss of lives at sea. We also work to ensure access to asylum, dignified reception conditions and durable solutions for refugees – with particular attention to people with acute needs and vulnerabilities.

The scale and fluidity of refugee movements in Europe have posed significant challenges for asylum systems and reception facilities in many countries. Faced with domestic pressure, numerous countries have responded by unilaterally imposing tighter legal and physical restrictions on access to their territory.

UNHCR advocates for fair and effective asylum systems across Europe to ensure that asylum-seekers are able to access asylum and effective protection. We also advocate with governments to enhance opportunities and support for local integration of refugees. In the absence of fully functioning asylum systems in some European countries, UNHCR assists States in establishing fair and efficient asylum procedures.

Among the millions of stateless people worldwide, UNHCR estimates that around 570,000 live in Europe. We are assisting European countries to identify and protect those who are stateless, as well as to prevent and reduce statelessness on the continent.

UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Europe covers 49 countries. We work with a range of organizations and partners, including the European Union and its agencies, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, other UN agencies, civil society and NGOs. The Bureau also engages with supranational legal institutions, including the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union. 

Children on the move and unaccompanied and separated children

In 2016, close to 100,300 refugee and migrant children arrived in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, and Spain – and one in three was unaccompanied or separated from their family. Children on the move and unaccompanied and separated children face many protection risks in Europe, including detention, sexual and gender-based violence, further family separation, psychological distress and security risks. These dangers are exacerbated when they are placed in inadequate reception facilities and cannot access appropriate care. Lack of educational opportunities or recreational activities also impact their well-being.

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UNHCR’s response to the refugee and migrant situation in Europe

In 2015, and the first months of 2016, almost 1.2 million refugees and migrants reached European shores, most fleeing conflict and persecution. Many lost their lives or saw loved ones perish at sea in their attempt to reach safety. An increasing number of families, women and unaccompanied children undertook perilous journeys across several countries and often faced exploitation at the hands of smugglers.

Learn more: Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan for Europe (January-December 2017)

UNHCR in Ukraine

As a result of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, over 1.6 million people were registered as internally displaced by the end of December 2016. Another 470,000 Ukrainians were seeking asylum in neighbouring countries at year end, 94 per cent of them in the Russian Federation. Under a UN coordinated response, UNHCR leads and coordinates the humanitarian response with regard to protection, emergency shelter and non-food assistance for people displaced inside Ukraine.

Learn more about our work in Ukraine