THE world must do more to protect Syrian child refugees, who are bearing the brunt of trauma from their nation’s civil war, Save the Children has said.
Even though half of Syrian refugees are under 18, only three per cent of humanitarian aid is being spent on them, the charity has said in the report Childhood in the Shadow of War.
One in four children still inside Syria is at risk of developing mental-health disorders because of the violence and terror to which many are exposed, the UN has said. Of the children who have fled to neighbouring countries, 700,000 are not in school.
The report interviewed dozens of Syrian refugee children in camps in Lebanon and the Kurdistan region in Iraq. They asked them to draw pictures to explain what their lives were like, and what made them happy and sad.
“Children aged eight to 13 participating in [these] exercises included images of planes, bombs, soldiers, tanks, injured bodies, as well as descriptions of ‘the death of relatives’, ‘seeing bodies’, or ‘the smell of gas’ for example, as things that make them sad,” the report says.
Staff at the Kurdistan camp said that most of the children in their care would have seen fighting. Some of them would have witnessed their family members being killed in front of them.
A child-protection officer in Lebanon, Lara Hallak, said: “The children talk about violence all the time. The problem is not solved in six months. Look at this place: violence is in the hearts of these children.”
The trauma is manifest in the children’s lives, too. It is common for Syrian refugee children to suffer from nightmares, separation anxiety, and a sense of hopelessness about the future — particularly among teenagers.
“Staff describe seeing adolescents turning to negative coping-mechanisms, such as alcohol and drug use, as well as self-harming behaviours,” the report states. Save the Children has also had reports of some teenagers’ becoming suicidal. A handful of children have taken their own lives while inside the camps.
Even everyday activities such as football games are regularly marred by violence and anger from the disturbed children. Girls, especially, suffer in refugee camps, as they are often kept indoors all day to protect them from harassment and attack.
Despite the strains of living in the shadow of war, the “overwhelming preoccupation” of the children surveyed was their parents’ lack of money and work. “The stress that comes from a constant concern for meeting basic needs permeates the entire household,” the report found.
This poverty has led to a marked rise in child labour, and daughters’ being married off earlier in Syrian refugee communities.
The report was published on Monday, as aid agencies and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees warned that 12,000 refugees were stranded in the desert along the border with Jordan, which was refusing them entry.