An aid charity is calling on governments to prioritise humanitarian aid for refugee children and their families
Vital support is needed to prevent refugee children perishing in sub-zero temperatures as they amass along the Macedonia and Serbia border where temperatures are expected to plummet to -20.
Save the Children staff at a border reception centre in Presevo, Serbia, say there is six inches of snow on the ground and children are arriving with blue lips, distressed and shaking from the cold.
Exhausted mothers say they are unable to keep their babies warm and dry, and are slipping over while carrying them on the icy roads.
Staff in Belgrade have reported several possible cases of hypothermia and frostbite already.
Despite the freezing temperatures, around a thousand refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq are making the crossing every day.
More are arriving on the Greek islands, including in Lesvos, where it is snowing this week and children are coming ashore wearing only T-shirts and soaking wet after travelling on unseaworthy rubber dinghies.
Speaking to Save the Children staff in Serbia, Nasir, who fled the war in Syria five months ago with his wife and two small children, said he attempted the crossing from Turkey to Greece twice after someone drowned on the first attempt.
We couldn’t remain in Syria, but it doesn’t get this cold there. We have never been this cold - Nasir
“The boat journey was the hardest part,” he said. “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.
“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.
Valentina Bollenback who is with Save the Children in Presevo, said: “The conditions here are very, very difficult, and with temperatures forecast to drop as low as -20 °C today, the lives of children are at risk.
“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.
"Instead of focusing on closing their borders, Europe’s governments should be doing more to give people fleeing war a dignified and humane reception.”
The aid charity is calling 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.