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UN: 23,000 child refugees risk death in Europe cold snap

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A Syrian refugee girl holds her younger sister while walking back to their shelter at the refugee camp of Ritsona about 86 kilometers north of Athens, Greece, January 11, 2017. (Photo by AP)

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has warned that more than 23,000 child refugees are at risk of respiratory infections and death due to the cold spell that has gripped Europe.

"With no sign of a let-up in the extreme cold weather and storms sweeping Central, Eastern and Southern Europe, refugee and migrant children are threatened by respiratory and other serious illnesses, and even death from hypothermia," UNICEF said in a statement on Friday.

An estimated 23,700 refugee children, including infants and newborns, remain stranded in Greece and the Balkans, where temperatures in some parts fall below minus 20 degrees Celsius.

More than 70 people have been killed in the recent cold snap in the continent as heavy snow further blankets eastern European countries, where many refugees are living in already poor conditions.

The cold spell started at the beginning of the year and gripped large swaths of land in Europe, particularly in its eastern parts, reducing temperatures to the lowest some of them have experienced in decades.

"Infants and the very young generally have less body fat to insulate them against the cold, making them more susceptible to respiratory problems and potentially fatal viral and bacterial infections such as pneumonia and influenza," said UNICEF Regional Health Advisor for Central and Eastern Europe Basil Rodriques.

Greece, which is home to large numbers of refugees, has moved many refugees to prefabricated houses and heated tents.

UNICEF, however, said many of these shelters "are ill-equipped for winter, even as temperatures fall below freezing."

A man brings some food to his family's tent set up on a baseball field at a refugee camp in the Hellinikon Olympic Complex, in a southern Athens suburb, Greece, January 11, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Europe is facing an unprecedented influx of refugees, who are fleeing conflict-ridden zones in North Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria.

Many blame support by some Western countries for the militants operating in the Middle East for increased violence, which in turn forces the departure of more people from their home countries.

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