Dog bites and police brutality: Europe’s child refugee shame

child refugees in an abandoned warehouse in Belgrade
Child refugees, aged nine and ten, shelter from freezing temperatures in an abandoned warehouse in Belgrade. Photo: Tatjana Ristic/Save the Children

Child refugees seeking safety in the EU are suffering dog bites as they are violently forced back into Serbia.

Children make up almost half of the refugee and migrants arriving in Serbia. A fifth of these children, some as young as eight and nine years old, are travelling alone, without any family.

In the last two months, 1,600 cases of secret illegal push-backs from Hungary and Croatia have been alleged by refugees and migrants.

They say they’ve been forced – often violently – back into Serbia, despite already crossing its border into the two EU member states.

Dog bites and brutality

Our teams have seen people bearing dog bites and other injuries caused by brutal treatment at the hands of law enforcement officers.

Fear of the authorities can lead to children into the hands of smugglers, who are resorting to increasingly dangerous tactics to move refugees and migrants into Europe.

Once children have been drawn into these underground networks, it becomes much harder for aid agencies to reach them.

And when they are offered help, children are often too afraid to take it because of myths and misinformation spread by people smugglers.

A 12-year-old from Afghanistan told us: “During the trip I had many problems especially in the woods.

“The Bulgarian police beat us, took our money, asked us why we came to Europe. We also had problems with the Mafia.”

No escape from danger

Children and families travelling this route are exceptionally vulnerable, and are already facing sub-zero temperatures and appalling living conditions.

An Iraqi family described how they had crossed mountains on the Bulgarian border at night in the snow, carrying their 8-year-old daughter. By the time they arrived at our centre, the girl’s mother needed urgent medical attention.

They told us they had fled Iraq after a bomb hit their home, and the children could no longer go to school because of ISIS.

Like so many others, this family had escaped violence and terror only to encounter yet more danger.

Save the Children’s Jelena Besedic on the ground in Serbia, said: “In truth the refugee crisis has not abated. It’s simply a more dangerous route, especially for children.

“The EU-Turkey deal has given smugglers a firmer grip on a hugely profitable business, incorporating increasingly dangerous tactics to circumvent authorities.

“We are seeing injuries such as dog bites and people wounded by brutal treatment as they are pushed back.”

How we’re helping

More than 1,000 people are now sleeping rough in freezing conditions in the centre of Belgrade and more are arriving every day.

Forced to burn rubbish just to keep warm, some are falling prey to respiratory illnesses. Others need treatment for frostbite.

In Belgrade, we run a 24/7 centre to support new arrivals, identify lone children and refer them for help.

We’re also lobbying the EU to urgently increase funding for emergency shelters and life-saving care for those waiting for somewhere safe to sleep.

Support our work with child refugees

Our teams are working with child refugees and their families across Europe and the Middle East.

We help keep children warm by providing warm clothes, blankets and fuel for heating. Our staff provide emotional support, and we make sure children get vital medical care.

Donate now to help child refugees


Leave a Reply


  • Karen Greenwood

    This is terrible. I would like to know what Save the Children and other organisations are doing to help these children. I have donated on several occasions and will continue to, but I’d like more information on what is happening on the ground.

  • Hi Karen. Thanks for the support.

    The situation is dreadful and with your help we are doing as much as we can. In partnership with the Center for Youth Integration, we are providing psychosocial support to children and teenagers through the activities inside around Belgrade and through Child Safeguarding teams in the Presevo Reception Center.

    With Group 484 (a Serbian NGO working with refugees) we provide psychosocial support to refugee and migrant population within the Asylum center Bogovadja, with the main focus on children, including unaccompanied and separated minors, as well as parents and caregivers. Save the Children and Praxis the Serbian Human Rights organisation are partnering to provide ongoing protection assistance in Belgrade parks, identifying, assisting and referring unaccompanied and separated children to other services.

    I hope this goes some way to explaining how we are helping in Serbia

    Best Wishes


  • Sasha

    This is disturbing! They are children and even if not they been through a lot! I want to know other than donating how else can we help these children?

  • Hi Sasha thanks so much for reading our blog. It is very upsetting to hear of what these children experience on a daily basis. There are lots of ways you can help without making a donation, spreading the word is very helpful. You could take a photo of yourself holding up a ‘#Refugees Welcome’ sign and share it on social media to show the world that this issue matters to you. Sharing our Facebook and Twitter posts with your family and friends really helps as its gets people behind our appeal. This prompts people to find out about the work that our teams are doing to give child refugees around the world the chance of a life free from persecution. You could do some fundraising with your friends, please visit our page for ideas: .
    Thanks so much for showing your support. Lucy 🙂