Number of Syrian child refugees reaches 1m
Figure a ‘shameful milestone’, says UN
A Syrian refugee boy sits on the ground at the Domiz refugee camp in the northern Iraqi province of Dohuk. The number of Syrian children forced to flee their devastated homeland reached 1 million this week. Photograph: Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters
The number of Syrian children forced to flee their war-ravaged homeland reached a million yesterday, the United Nations said, amounting to half of all the refugees driven out by a conflict that shows no sign of abating.
Another two million minors have been displaced within Syria where they are often targeted in attacks, recruited as fighters, and deprived of their education, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR and the UN children’s fund Unicef.
“If we just realise that last year around this time we had 70,000 Syrian refugee children and today we have reached one million, that tells us something about the escalation of this crisis and the problems facing children,” said Unicef deputy executive director Yoka Brandt.
The one million figure was a “shameful milestone” in the 2½-year-old conflict that has claimed at least 100,000 lives, the two UN agencies said. Of the dead, some 7,000 are estimated to be children.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warned that there was a huge risk of the war spawning a “lost generation” of Syrian youth, including teenagers whose anger has become “extremely dangerous” to society and the region.
Mr Guterres said he had met Syrian children in refugee camps in neighbouring countries suffering from loss of speech, disturbed sleep, and “very strange” forms of behaviour after witnessing the horrors of war.
He related the story of one Syrian girl he encountered in Zaatari camp in Jordan, which holds 120,000 refugees: “I remember one child of four years old with a family in a tent in Zaatari. During the 15-20 minutes that I was with them she was compulsively shooting with a toy gun and it was impossible to make the child stop.”
According to UNHCR, almost two million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and north Africa since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011. These host countries are straining to cope with the scale of the exodus.
“This is becoming a structural problem for the economies and societies of the neighbouring countries,” Mr Guterres said.
He acknowledged that foundering diplomatic efforts to broker an end to what has become an increasingly factionalised, sectarian conflict do not offer much hope for a solution any time soon.
“We know that there aren’t many reasons to be optimistic,” he said. “And very probably this war will go on and on and on and on. And the humanitarian impact is becoming more and more devastating.”
Aoife McDonnell, who works for UNHCR at Zaatari camp, said she had witnessed children as young as two days old crossing the border in their mothers’ arms.
“I’ve watched tears rolling down the cheeks of a young girl paralysed by a stray bullet; listened to countless stories from children describing a brother or sister, mother or father lost; and heard the first cries of one of the thousands of babies born in Zaatari,” she said. “This morning I asked a group of children from Dara’a, southern Syria, what they wished for the most. Their answer was short. To go home.”