As temperatures plummet as low as -20 °C on the Macedonia-Serbia border, refugee children are at risk of hypothermia as well as pneumonia and other potentially fatal respiratory illnesses, the British charity Save the Children warned on Tuesday.
The charity said that aid workers at the border reception center in Presevo, Serbia, reported that children arrive with blue lips, distressed and shaking from cold.
Staff in Belgrade have already reported several cases of hypothermia and frostbite.
Around a thousand refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan cross the Balkan route everyday, and more continue to arrive on the Greek islands.
The International Organization for Migration has said that arrivals in Europe across the Mediterranean Sea reached 23,664 in first 14 days of 2016.
Over one million refugees fleeing from war and poverty have reached Europe in 2015.
“The boat journey was the hardest part. It was extremely cold, everything was wet and the babies were ill. We threw our bags off to the boat to stop it from sinking any further,” Nasir, who fled the war in Syria five months ago with his wife and two small children, said.
“Sometimes I fear for my children. We couldn’t remain in Syria, but it doesn’t get this cold there. We have never been this cold,” he added.
In Idomeni, the Greek border with Macedonia where the temperature is due to drop to -13°C this week, the authorities have blocked access to a transit camp where aid agencies provide heated tents and food.
Now they have to sleep outside with no shelter.
“The mothers I have met arriving here are distressed because they are unable to keep their babies warm and safe. We see children with early signs of hypothermia such as blue lips and hands, as well as high fevers and respiratory problems,” said Valentina Bollenback from the charity.
“Instead of focusing on closing their borders, Europe’s governments should be doing more to give people fleeing war a dignified and humane reception,” she continued.
Save the Children called on governments to prioritise the immediate protection and humanitarian needs of children and their families.
“That includes the right to have their individual claims to international protection and asylum assessed – in line with refugee and human rights laws – while providing access to proper shelter, food and healthcare,” the statement said.