UN warns of damage to Syria’s children
Report says psychological effects of horrific experiences can be far-reaching
A displaced Syrian child in a makeshift camp for refugees only miles from the Syrian border in Majdal Anjar, Lebanon. “If we do not act quickly, a generation of innocents will become lasting casualties of an appalling war,” the UNHCR report said. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Half of all refugees from the civil war in Syria are children and of those, three quarters are under the age of 12, according to the latest report from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
In its latest analysis of the spillover effect of the war, the agency says the conflict risks creating a generation of damaged children, some 300,000 of whom may be without education by the end of this year.
The report, The Future of Syria – refugee children in crisis, was published yesterday under the names of Antonio Guterres, the UN’s high commissioner for refugees, and Angelina Jolie, UNHCR special envoy. It is based on research carried out between July and last month.
Families torn apart
It says the war, which began in March and April 2011 as part of the so-called Arab Spring when protesters demanded the removal of the Baathist government of president Bashar al-Assad, whose family have ruled the middle east state since 1971, has torn apart Syrian families, with more than 3,700 refugee children now living in Jordan and Lebanon without one or both of their parents, or with no adult caregivers at all.
Mr Guterres said: “If we do not act quickly, a generation of innocents will become lasting casualties of an appalling war.”
The UNHCR report follows an estimate from the Oxford Research Group, a UK-based think-tank, which on Monday put the number of children killed in Syria at more than 11,000. Of those, it estimated that 128 were killed by chemical weapons in Ghouta, near Damascus, on August 21st, 2013.
“By the end of September 2013, UNHCR had registered 2,440 unaccompanied or separated children in Lebanon and 1,320 in Jordan,” says the UN report. “In some cases the parents have died, been detained, or sent their children into exile alone out of fear for their safety.
UN agencies and partners help to find safe living arrangements for unaccompanied and separated children, reuniting them with their families or finding another family to look after them. Despite living in already crowded conditions, Syrian refugee families continue to open up their homes to relatives or even strangers.”
The report said the crisis had caused children “to suffer immensely, both physically and psychologically”. It said: “Children have been wounded or killed by sniper fire, rockets, missiles and falling debris. They have experienced first- hand conflict, destruction and violence. The psychological effects of such horrific experiences can be far-reaching, affecting their wellbeing, sleep, speech and social skills.”
Refugees were having a “dramatic impact” in Lebanon and Jordan, it said.
“Lebanon, with a population of a little more than four million, has received more than 800,000 Syrian refugees in two years. The economy, essential services and stability of the country are all suffering.”
Jordan, one of the most “water poor” nations in the world, with a population of a little over six million, is now home to more than 550,000 Syrian refugees. It is buckling under the pressure on its services, infrastructure and resources.
“While many Jordanians and Lebanese display kindness and generosity towards Syrian refugees, tensions between the communities – and even within refugee communities – have put refugee children at risk.”
Refugee children in both countries, some as young as seven, are also working long hours for little pay.
“While some girls are employed, notably in agriculture and domestic work, the majority of working children are boys. Sheer financial necessity is at the core of almost all cases of child labour. In some families, parents simply cannot find a job, do not earn enough to support the family, or are unable to work owing to physical, legal or cultural barriers. An enormous burden falls on working children’s shoulders. Some are mistreated in the workplace, are exposed to illicit activities, or come into conflict with the law.”
It said UN agencies, and non-governmental organisations, were working to “restore a sense of normalcy” to the lives of refugees.
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