Friday, August 23, 2013

Shame, as we fail the children of Syria

A Syrian child refugee, one of one million (Photo via UNHCR)
“Does the world care?"

“Can we forget?”

“Can we forgive you for ignoring us?”

Questions this little girl -- one of one million Syrian refugee children -- seems to be asking us.

Since the beginning of the war in Syria in March 2011, one of the most devastating facts -- after the loss of life -- is the figures for the living.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, estimates there are now more than one million Syrian children living outside their country as refugees out of almost two million people who have fled Syria to escape the bloody war.

In a statement released today in Geneva, UNHCR says one million Syrian children have now been registered as refugees.

"What is at stake is nothing less than the survival and well-being of a generation of innocents," António Guterres, UNHCR High Commissioner said.

"The youth of Syria are losing their homes, their family members and their futures. Even after they have crossed a border to safety, they are traumatized, depressed and in need of a reason for hope,” he added.

According to UNHCR and UNICEF, “Children make up half of all refugees from the Syria conflict. Most have arrived in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Increasingly, Syrians are fleeing to North Africa and Europe. Latest figures show that of the one million Syrian refugees under the age of 18, some 740,000 are children under the age of 11.”

"This one millionth child refugee is not just another number," UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in New York. "This is a real child ripped from home, maybe even from a family, facing horrors we can only begin to comprehend."

"We must all share the shame," said Lake, "because while we work to alleviate the suffering of those affected by this crisis, the global community has failed in its responsibility to this child. We should stop and ask ourselves how, in all conscience, we can continue to fail the children of Syria."

Inside Syria, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, some 7,000 children have been killed during the conflict. UNHCR and UNICEF estimate that more than two million children have been internally displaced within Syria.

The UNHCR statement says, “The physical upheaval, fear, stress and trauma experienced by so many children account for just part of the human crisis.”

Dalhamiyeh camp for Syrian refugees in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley (UNHCR/S. Baldwin)
It adds that both UNHCR and UNICEF highlight the threats to refugee children from child labor, early marriage and the potential for sexual exploitation and trafficking. More than 3,500 children in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq have crossed Syria's borders either unaccompanied or separated from their families.

UNHCR has registered all one million children, giving them an identity. The agency helps babies born in exile get birth certificates, preventing them from becoming stateless. UNHCR also ensures that all refugee families and children live in some form of safe shelter.

But more remains to be done, said the two agencies. The Syria Regional Refugee Response plan, which calls for $3 billion to address the acute needs of refugees until December 2013, is currently only 38 percent funded.

More than $5 billion has been called for to address the Syria crisis, with critical needs in education, health care and other services for children and child members of host communities. More resources need to be devoted to developing strong networks to identify refugee children at risk and to provide them, and their host communities, with support.

More funds are only part of the response needed to address children's needs, the UN agencies said.

Those who fail to meet these obligations under international humanitarian law should be held fully accountable for their actions, UNHCR and UNICEF said.