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UN warns of lasting damage to Syria’s children

06 December 2013


White tents: Syrian refugees outside tents set up by the UN at the Lebanese border town of Arsal. Home to about 350 people, the site is the first officially UN-run plot set up for displaced Syrian in Lebanon, complete with running water, WCs, and other services

White tents: Syrian refugees outside tents set up by the UN at the Lebanese border town of Arsal. Home to about 350 people, the site is the first of...

MORE than 1.1 million children have been forced from their homes by the Syrian conflict, and three-quarters of them are under the age of 12, a report for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has found.

The report, The Future of Syria: Refugee children in crisis, says that the civil war, now in its third year, has had a terrible impact on children.

The report states: "The turmoil in Syria has torn families apart, with over 3700 children in Jordan and Lebanon living without one or both of their parents, or with no adult caregivers at all." The researchers found that exposure to warfare, death, and destruction has had a lasting and devastating effect on children of all ages. "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 well-being, sleep, speech and social skills."

The UNCHR report also warns that the two main host countries for Syrian refugees, Lebanon and Jordan, are almost overwhelmed by the scale of the humanitarian crisis. As of September, more than 100,000 Syrian children in Jordan were not going to school, and twice this number in Lebanon. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said: "If we do not act quickly, a generation of innocents will become lasting casualties of an appalling war."

Some 77 per cent of Syrian newborn refugees in Lebanon do not have a birth certificate, the Future of Syria report found. Un-registered children can become stateless and are more at risk of abuse and exploitation, the report says. It recommends renewed international efforts to keep borders open to Syrian refugees, and greater support for host nations. It also demands an end to children's being forced to work to provide for their families, and the expansion of resettlement programmes.

The charity World Vision said that the only hope for Syrian children engulfed in the conflict were peace talks between the warring factions. It called on all parties to join talks in Geneva in January to bring about a lasting end to the civil war.

The Christian advocacy group Open Doors said in a statement that the announcement of the 22 January date for the Geneva peace talks was a vindication of their "Save Syria" campaign. Open Doors' advocacy director for the UK and Ireland, Stephen Rand, said: "In August we were anticipating US air strikes on Syria. Now we have a date for talks in Geneva. When a Christian mother in Damascus asks 'Why does no one care that Christians are dying?', we can tell her there are those who care."

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