UNHCR report puts spotlight on the exploitation and misery of Syria's children

News Stories, 29 November 2013

© UNHCR/O.Laban-Mattei
These children live in a tiny apartment in the suburbs of Amman. The television is one of the only sources of entertainment. With family still inside Syria, the parents often follow Syrian channels that show graphic images of violence, destruction and death.

GENEVA, November 29 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency, in a report released on Friday, says staggering numbers of Syrian refugee children in Jordan and Lebanon are growing up in fractured families, missing out on education and serving as their household's primary breadwinner.

"If we do not act quickly, a generation of innocents will become lasting casualties of an appalling war," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on the release of the report, which covers refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.

The report, "The Future of Syria Refugee Children in Crisis," details the fracturing of families, with more than 70,000 Syrian refugee families living without fathers, and over 3,700 refugee children unaccompanied or separated from both parents.

The 32-month conflict has left deep scars on defenceless children. In the first six months of this year, 741 Syrian refugee children were referred to hospitals in Lebanon and treated for injuries. More than 1,000 children in Jordan's Za'atri Refugee Camp were treated for war-related injuries over a one-year period.

During focus group discussions with refugee boys, several expressed a desire to return to Syria to fight. The researchers also heard a report of boys being trained to fight in preparation for return to Syria.

Refugee families lacking financial resources send their children to work to assure their basic survival. In both Jordan and Lebanon, the researchers found children as young as seven working long hours for little pay, sometimes in dangerous or exploitative conditions. In Za'atri camp, most of the 680 small shops employ children. An assessment in 11 out of 12 governorates in Jordan found nearly one in two refugee households surveyed relied partly or entirely on the income generated by a child.

The UNHCR research details a painful life of isolation, exclusion and insecurity endured by many refugee children: 29 per cent of children interviewed said that they leave their home once a week or less. Home is often a crammed apartment, a makeshift shelter or a tent.

"The world must act to save a generation of traumatized, isolated and suffering Syrian children from catastrophe," UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie said.

The study includes multiple testimonies from children. Nadia, a newly arrived refugee in Jordan said, "Our lives are destroyed. We are not being educated, and without education there is nothing. We're heading towards destruction."

The report shows that more children are out of school than in. More than half of all school-aged Syrian children in Jordan are not in school. In Lebanon, it is estimated that some 200,000 school-aged Syrian refugee children could remain out of school at the end of the year.

Another disturbing symptom of the crisis is the number of babies born in exile who do not have birth certificates. Birth registration helps to prevent statelessness. A recent UNHCR survey on birth registration in Lebanon revealed that 77 per cent of 781 refugee infants sampled did not have a birth certificate. Between January and mid-October 2013, only 68 certificates were issued to babies born in Za'atri.

The report details the effort mounted by the UN, non-governmental organizations, host governments and refugees to address the suffering faced by children. Financial assistance to refugee families is offered by UNHCR to help destitute and struggling families. The report profiles the creative efforts of UNHCR, UNICEF, Save the Children and other NGOs to give children a chance to resume their education. Generosity and kindness of host communities is a recurrent theme.

There are more than 1.1 million Syrian refugee children, the majority living in neighbouring countries. Demanding that "this shameful milestone of conflict must deliver more than headlines," Guterres and Jolie called for support for Syria's neighbours to keep their borders open, improve their services and support the host communities. They also appealed for countries beyond Syria's borders to offer resettlement and humanitarian admission to people who continue to feel unsafe in exile and families with seriously injured children.

After nearly 1,000 days of conflict, the report is designed to refocus attention on the plight of Syrian refugee children. The findings are presented on a multimedia microsite (www.unhcr.org/FutureOfSyria) that features photographs, videos and easily tweetable quotes and statistics. Some of the videos were shot with GoPro cameras that followed children in Za'atri camp.

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Forced to grow up too soon in Lebanon: Mahmoud

Mahmoud,15, hasn't been to school in 3 years. In his native Syria, his parents were afraid to send him because of the civil war. They ended up fleeing a year ago when, in the early morning hours, a bomb fell on a nearby house. The family, still groggy from being jolted awake, grabbed what they could and fled to Lebanon. Their home and the local school have since been destroyed.

In Lebanon, Mahmoud's father is unable to find work and now the family can barely afford rent.

A month ago, Mahmoud started working for tips cleaning fish at a small shop next to his home. He makes about $60 USD a month. With this money he helps pay rent on his family's tiny underground room, shared between his parents and eight brothers and sisters. Mahmoud is proud to help his family but with the fish shop located in the same subterranean structure as his home, he barely goes out into the sunshine.

Children like Mahmoud, some as young as seven, often work long hours for little pay, and in some cases in dangerous conditions. These children forfeit their future by missing out on an education and the carefree years of childhood. Many are also traumatized by what they witnessed back in Syria.

UNHCR and its partners together with local governments are providing financial assistance to help vulnerable Syrian refugee families cover expenses like rent and medical care, which means there is less need to pull children out of school and put them to work. UN agencies and their partners have also established case management and referral systems in Jordan and Lebanon to identify children at risk and refer them to the appropriate services.

Forced to grow up too soon in Lebanon: Mahmoud

UNHCR country pages

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

Iraqi Refugees in Syria: 2,000 New Arrivals Daily

The UN refugee agency is increasingly alarmed over the continuing violence in Iraq and distressed about the lack of an international humanitarian response to deal with the massive numbers of people being displaced. After an assessment mission in November last year, UNHCR officials warned that the agency was facing an even larger humanitarian crisis than it had prepared for in 2002-03. But UNHCR and other organisations are sorely lacking in funds to cope with the growing numbers of displaced.

In an effort to fill the massive gap in funding, UNHCR in January 2007 launched a US$60 million appeal to cover its protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people within strife torn Iraq.

The longer the Iraq conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become for the hundreds of thousands of displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq. Because the burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous, it is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts.

Posted on 5 February 2007

Iraqi Refugees in Syria: 2,000 New Arrivals Daily

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

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