On February 24, Halina (not her real name) woke up in Kyiv to find her mother crying while watching the news on TV. “I realized the war had started and my first words were: ‘Am I going to live 12 years?’
Halina heard the rockets overhead and the explosions that shook the windows of her house. After hiding in a bomb shelter for six days, his family packed up and went to live in a shelter in Chernivtsi, western Ukraine.
This is the reality for millions of children in Ukraine and millions of others who have fled the war. Against this background, the European Union (EU) must prioritize the protection of children’s rights.
The EU can be proud of many of its efforts to protect the children of Ukraine. His swift activation of the Temporary Protection Directive enabled two million refugee children to find the safety and stability they desperately need. It has also mobilized more than €700 million for humanitarian aid in Ukraine. But as welcome as these measures are, the sheer scale of the crisis has created enormous challenges for governments.
When I traveled to Poland, I saw first-hand the scale of the crisis and the efforts of national authorities and organizations to respond. Councils are doing an amazing job to ensure children have access to education, but they don’t have the funds to hire more teaching staff.
I was able to see the shortage of language teachers to help children in Ukraine learn Polish and prepare them for school. And these children don’t just need language support: many, like Halina, have terrible memories of the conflict; they will need psychosocial support to integrate in school. This is a challenge across the EU, with countries such as Spain hosting 140,000 refugees, half of them children. Enrolling so many children in national education systems requires major efforts and a significant allocation of resources to expand the school response.
The very fact that Ukraine’s children are protected and that governments are doing everything possible to provide them with services is a positive step for the EU. All too often, children seeking safety in Europe face violence, discrimination and marginalization. Ukraine’s response can serve as a model for treating all children arriving in Europe with dignity and respect, as President von der Leyen recently emphasized in his State of the Union address.
More than 205 million people in 45 countries face severe food insecurity, and 60 million children are severely malnourished.
The conflict in Ukraine also affects children in Europe. This led to an increase in inflation and contributed to a severe crisis in the cost of living. In the Netherlands, the price of food has risen by 18.5% in the last 11 months, and 17.1% of children in Spain live in families that cannot pay their utility bills, mortgage or rent on time due to financial difficulties. The most pronounced consequences are for children already living in poverty, as lower-income families are forced to choose between eating and staying warm.
The EU must not lose sight of its commitments to tackle child poverty and divert resources from this effort to the equally important support of refugee children in Ukraine. Efforts to tackle inflation must be accompanied by increases in child support and welfare benefits to help meet the cost of living in an emergency.
At the root of the cost-of-living crisis is the drastic reduction in supplies of fossil fuels from Russia, on which the EU’s economy largely depends. It is very important how Europe reacts to this. If countries do not get rid of their dependence on fossil fuels, they will pass it on to future generations of children.
Finally, the war in Ukraine, rising food and fuel prices have had an impact on the countries with the greatest needs. More than 205 million people in 45 countries face severe food insecurity, and 60 million children are severely malnourished. In Somalia and Sahel countries, it is driving more children to hunger and turning the crisis into a disaster at a time when many European governments are cutting development aid budgets or redirecting them to support refugees in their countries.
The EU must use its diplomatic and financial weight in response. In Ukraine, in Europe and around the world, children bear the brunt of the direct and secondary consequences of war. The EU has the means to tackle these problems, but political will and long-term commitments will be needed to ensure that these children receive the same support and protection.
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