Migrant children in transit: health profile and social needs of unaccompanied and accompanied children visiting the MSF clinic in Belgrade, Serbia.
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JournalConflict and health
AbstractBackground: Thousands of children migrate to Europe each year in search of safety and the promise of a better life. Many of them transited through Serbia in 2018. Children journey alone or along with their family members or caregivers. Accompanied migrant children (AMC) and particularly unaccompanied migrant children (UMC) have specific needs and experience difficulties in accessing services. Uncertainty about the journey and daily stressors affect their physical and mental health, making them one of the most vulnerable migrant sub-populations. The aim of the study is to describe the demographic, health profile of UMC and AMC and the social services they accessed to better understand the health and social needs of this vulnerable population. Methods: We conducted a retrospective, descriptive study using routinely collected program data of UMC and AMC receiving medical, mental and social care at the Médecins sans Frontières clinic, in Belgrade, Serbia from January 2018 through January 2019. Results: There were 3869 children who received medical care (1718 UMC, 2151 AMC). UMC were slightly older, mostly males (99%) from Afghanistan (82%). Skin conditions were the most prevalent among UMC (62%) and AMC (51%). Among the 66 mental health consultations (45 UMC, 21 AMC), most patients were from Afghanistan, with 98% of UMC and 67% of AMC being male. UMC as well as AMC were most likely to present with symptoms of anxiety (22 and 24%). There were 24 UMC (96% males and 88% from Afghanistan) that received social services. They had complex and differing case types. 83% of UMC required assistance with accommodation and 75% with accessing essential needs, food and non-food items. Several required administrative assistance (12.5%) and nearly a third (29%) legal assistance. 38% of beneficiaries needed medical care. Most frequently provided service was referral to a state Centre for social welfare. Conclusion: Our study shows that unaccompanied and accompanied migrant children have a lot of physical, mental health and social needs. These needs are complex and meeting them in the context of migration is difficult. Services need to better adapt by improving access, flexibility, increasing accommodation capacity and training a qualified workforce.
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