New UNICEF Report on Children Displaced from Ukraine Says Legal Assistance is Key to Protection

August 17, 2023

The conflict in Ukraine has triggered Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II with at least 1.9 million refugee children registered in Europe. Many of these children are living away from their parents and their irreplaceable love and care. They include unaccompanied and separated children and children evacuated from alternative care settings in Ukraine.  

The recently published report by UNICEF ECARO (Europe and Central Asia Regional Office) and Child Circle, Fulfilling the rights of children without parental care displaced from Ukraine, highlights the ongoing vulnerability and needs of these children in Europe and provides recommendations on how to better protect them, keep their best interests at the center of all decision-making, and ensure they can access their rights. 

KIND supported this important study as a member of its Reference Group alongside key international and European bodies and other expert agencies in the field. KIND is pleased that the report emphasizes the critical role child-friendly legal information, counseling, and assistance play as a key safeguard for children.  

Access to specialized legal assistance for children and their guardians and families will help children understand their rights and options to ensure that the best interests of the child are addressed and that all forms of international protection for the child are considered. The report highlights the lack of legal information and assistance for children, despite the precariousness of their situation.  

Comprehensive, secure, and sustainable solutions are key, and should include the child’s input, especially because what was once an emergency humanitarian crisis has now turned into a prolonged conflict. Child protection systems should be strengthened and planning for longer-term displacement should be a priority. The report notes the particular need children have for support and legal assistance as they transition to adulthood. 

The report includes a series of key recommendations to ensure children’s rights are fulfilled, including the improvement of legal assistance provision, in which KIND is cited as a leading actor to promote progress. A key recommendation is for the European Commission to fund specialized legal assistance, including the facilitation of pro bono private sector assistance. The report highlights KIND’s pro bono model and references previous KIND/Child Circle reports, including Advancing Protection for Unaccompanied Children in Europe by Strengthening Legal Assistance and Stepping Stones to Safety.  

KIND Senior Director for Europe Kirsty Thomson, who was part of the Reference Group, stated, “KIND has been working with its partners to improve access to legal information and assistance in the region with our nongovernmental and pro bono legal partners since the start of the conflict and stands ready to play our part in further supporting the report’s recommendations.” 

KIND is taking the following actions to support the report’s recommendations: 

  • Issuing a focus paper with Child Circle analyzing challenges and sharing key lessons in the provision of legal assistance, drawing from KIND’s experience in responding to the needs of children displaced from Ukraine.  
  • Continuing to expand KIND’s operations in Europe to be a leader in improving the provision of legal assistance for children in the region. Currently, we are recruiting two KIND attorneys to be based in Poland and Slovakia to bring specialized knowledge and advice on a range of legal issues facing unaccompanied and separated children, including those displaced from Ukraine. 
  • Working to increase the child-friendly information and tools available to children and their caregivers. KIND will soon launch a series of videos offering psychosocial guidance and tools for caregivers supporting children impacted by the conflict produced in collaboration with PoMA, a mental health and psychological support organization, and Ukrainian psychologists and actors.   
  • Continuing to work with pro bono and NGO partners to produce child-friendly legal information for children displaced from Ukraine.  

Read more about how KIND is addressing the needs of children who have fled Ukraine here