Syria conflict records its millionth child refugee, says UN
23 August 2013
The number of Syrian children forced to flee their embattled homeland has reached 1 million, UN aid agencies have said, with most of those affected under 11. Within the country, more than 2 million children have been uprooted.
Some 7,000 children have been killed since the conflict began, the UN refugee agency UNHCR and UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said.
“This 1 millionth child refugee is not just another number,” said UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake. “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,” he added, “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.”
Nearly 2 million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt, the UN refugee agency says. They include 40,000 Syrian Kurds who flooded into Iraqi Kurdistan in the past week.
Children make up half of all refugees from the Syria conflict, according to the two aid agencies. Latest figures show that about 740,000 Syrian child refugees are under 11. [Click here to meet 8-year-old Aya.]
Ahmed, 14, living in Za’atari camp in Jordan, lost his brother in the conflict but still said he hoped to return home.
“My brother has been killed and my sister experienced a brain injury,” he said. “We thought we could not bring her here at first. But in the end we brought her and my brother in an ambulance. We ended up burying him here.
“My sister has been receiving treatment to learn how to walk again after the accident, because she lost usage of her left leg. I wish we could go back to home one day.”
Besides the physical upheaval, fear, stress and trauma experienced by child refugees fleeing crisis, they also face the threat of sexual exploitation, trafficking, child labour and early marriage.
More than 3,500 children in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq have crossed Syria’s borders either alone or separated from their families.
“What is at stake is nothing less than the survival and wellbeing of a generation of innocents,” said UNHCR high commissioner António Guterres. “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 traumatised, depressed and in need of a reason for hope.”
The Syrian conflict, now well into its third year, prompted the UN to launch the biggest appeal in its history, for more than $5bn in aid. Part of the appeal, the Syria Regional Refugee Response plan, calls for $3bn dollars to address the acute needs of refugees until December of this year. The appeal is currently only 38 per cent funded.
While intensified efforts are needed to find a political solution to the crisis in Syria, parties to the conflict must stop targeting civilians and cease recruitment of children, said UNHCR and UNICEF.
“Children and their families must be safe to leave Syria and borders must remain open so they can cross to safety,” the aid agencies said. “Those who fail to meet these obligations under international humanitarian law should be held fully accountable for their actions.”