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.

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

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

Syria Emergency: Urgent Appeal

You can help save the lives of thousands of refugees

Donate to this crisis

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

By mid-September, more than 200,000 Syrian refugees had crossed the border into Turkey. UNHCR estimates that half of them are children, and many have seen their homes destroyed in the conflict before fleeing to the border and safety.

The Turkish authorities have responded by building well-organized refugee camps along southern Turkey's border with Syria. These have assisted 120,000 refugees since the crisis conflict erupted in Syria. There are currently 12 camps hosting 90,000 refugees, while four more are under construction. The government has spent approximately US$300 million to date, and it continues to manage the camps and provide food and medical services.

The UN refugee agency has provided the Turkish government with tents, blankets and kitchen sets for distribution to the refugees. UNHCR also provides advice and guidelines, while staff from the organization monitor voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Most of the refugees crossing into Turkey come from areas of northern Syria, including the city of Aleppo. Some initially stayed in schools or other public buildings, but they have since been moved into the camps, where families live in tents or container homes and all basic services are available.

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

The violence inside Syria continues to drive people from their homes, with some seeking shelter elsewhere in their country and others risking the crossing into neighbouring countries. The United Nations estimates that up to 4 million people are in need of help, including some 2 million believed to be internally displaced.

The UN refugee agency has 350 staff working inside Syria. Despite the insecurity, they continue to distribute vital assistance in the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Al Hassakeh and Homs. Thanks to their work and dedication, more than 350,000 people have received non-food items such as blankets, kitchen sets and mattresses. These are essential items for people who often flee their homes with no more than the clothes on their backs. Cash assistance has been given to more than 10,600 vulnerable Syrian families.

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

Syria: Aid Reaches Eastern AleppoPlay video

Syria: Aid Reaches Eastern Aleppo

An agreement between the Syrian Government and the opposition allows UNHCR and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to deliver humanitarian assistance to the besieged city of Aleppo.
Jordan: Syrian Refugees' Housing CrisisPlay video

Jordan: Syrian Refugees' Housing Crisis

Hundreds of thousands of refugees living in urban areas are struggling to survive. They face rising rents, inadequate accommodation, and educational challenges for their children.
Jordan: Shahad Finds her VoicePlay video

Jordan: Shahad Finds her Voice

Four-year-old Shahad is among hundreds of thousands of Syrian children suffering from the traumatic effects of the war in Syria. After a bomb attack on her family home, she stopped speaking.