Monaco rallies to help sick refugee children in Syria

News Stories, 3 March 2009

© UNHCR/J.Wreford
Refugees at a health centre in Damascus. Monaco is helping sick refugee children in Syria.

DAMASCUS, Syria, March 3 (UNHCR) Two seriously ill refugees in Syria are expected to be flown this summer to Monaco for surgery under a project launched to mark the 50th birthday last year of Monaco's ruler, Prince Albert II.

The two were among a group of children examined in Damascus last week by two visiting Monégasque doctors, François Bourlon, a cardio-thoracic paediatrician, and orthopaedic surgeon Tristan Lascar. Their mission was made possible with the help of the UN refugee agency and the Monaco government.

UNHCR staff and Syrian health officials prepared a list of about 30 refugee children, including Somalis and Iraqis, in urgent need of medical care that could not be provided in Syria. The doctors saw 10 children at the Al-Zahera Clinic suffering from orthopaedic or cardiological ailments, and identified three as priority cases.

Two, aged eight and three, will be sent to Monaco for treatment later this year, while the third could be operated on at the clinic, which will soon become the largest paediatric medical facility in Syria.

The two children, one of whom needs heart surgery, will be flown to Monaco by the French non-governmental organization, Aviation sans Frontières, which works with UNHCR in resettlement cases. Once in the principality, the young patients will be hosted by local families, but will be in regular touch with their parents back in Syria.

Adam Musa, UNHCR's senior public health officer in Syria, said that convincing the parents to let their children go to Monaco alone will be very difficult. The two surgeons said they were ready to return to Syria for further consultations and to conduct operations in Damascus on refugee children suffering from ailments within their sphere of expertise.

They also said they were happy to share their skills with Syrian colleagues, so that they could help more children in the future. "We met a good medical team and rapidly found a common language that enabled us to share our knowledge with our Syrian counterparts," said Doctor Bourlon, adding that this would make it easier to identify children in need of their help in the future.

The medical evacuation programme comes almost a year after various charity groups marked Prince Albert's 50th birthday by raising funds to enable the medical evacuation of sick children from poor countries to receive surgery in Monaco.

Also last year, the prince said he would like to develop stronger political and humanitarian ties between his small, but wealthy principality and the UN refugee agency.

The Principality of Monaco, situated on the French Riviera, is the world's second smallest independent nation. It has a surface area of 196 hectares (485 acres) and is home to around 32,000 people, making it one of the most densely populated countries on earth.

By Marie-Ange Lescure in Damascus, Syria

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There are roughly 105,000 refugees in South Sudan's Maban County. Many are at serious health risk. UNHCR and its partners are working vigorously to prevent and contain the outbreak of malaria and several water-borne diseases.

Most of the refugees, especially children and the elderly, arrived at the camps in a weakened condition. The on-going rains tend to make things worse, as puddles become incubation areas for malaria-bearing mosquitoes. Moderately malnourished children and elderly can easily become severely malnourished if they catch so much as a cold.

The problems are hardest felt in Maban County's Yusuf Batil camp, where as many as 15 per cent of the children under 5 are severely malnourished.

UNHCR and its partners are doing everything possible to prevent and combat illness. In Yusuf Batil camp, 200 community health workers go from home to home looking educating refugees about basic hygene such as hand washing and identifying ill people as they go. Such nutritional foods as Plumpy'nut are being supplied to children who need them. A hospital dedicated to the treatment of cholera has been established. Mosquito nets have been distributed throughout the camps in order to prevent malaria.

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Some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are children who have sought shelter in urban areas with their families. Unlike those in camps, refugees living in towns and cities in countries like Iraq, Turkey and Jordan often find it difficult to gain access to aid and protection. In a refugee camp, it is easier for humanitarian aid organizations such as UNHCR to provide shelter and regular assistance, including food, health care and education. Finding refugees in urban areas, let alone helping them, is no easy task.

In Iraq, about 100,000 of the 143,000 Syrian refugees are believed to be living in urban areas - some 40 per cent of them are children aged under 18 years. The following photographs, taken in the northern city of Erbil by Brian Sokol, give a glimpse into the lives of some of these young urban refugees. They show the harshness of daily life as well as the resilience, adaptability and spirit of young people whose lives have been overturned in the past two years.

Life is difficult in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The cost of living is high and it is difficult to find work. The refugees must also spend a large part of their limited resources on rent. UNHCR and its partners, including the Kurdish Regional Government, struggle to help the needy.

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A UNHCR-funded project in Kabul, Afghanistan, is helping to keep returnee children off the streets by teaching them to read and write, give them room to play and offer vocational training in useful skills such as tailoring, flower making, and hairstyling.

Every day, Afghan children ply the streets of Kabul selling anything from newspapers to chewing gum, phone cards and plastic bags. Some station themselves at busy junctions and weave through traffic waving a can of smoking coal to ward off the evil eye. Others simply beg from passing strangers.

There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 street children in the Afghan capital alone. Among them are those who could not afford an education as refugees in Iran or Pakistan, and are unable to go to school as returnees in Afghanistan because they have to work from dawn to dusk to support their families. For the past seven years, a UNHCR-funded project has been working to bring change.

Posted on 12 November 2008

Afghan Street Children Turn from Beggars to Beauticians

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