Four years of war: UN urges support to pull Syrians out of ‘nightmare of suffering’

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Syrian Kurdish refugees cross into Turkey from Syria near the northern town of Kobane in 2014. Photo: UNHCR/I.Prickett

12 March 2015 – As the Syria conflict enters its fifth year, the United Nations is urging for greater support to help the millions of refugees, including millions of children, across the region caught up in alarmingly deteriorating conditions and facing an even bleaker future than initially thought.

According to the United Nations more than 200,000 people have been killed since the Syria crisis began in March 2011. Some 12.2 million people are now in need of some form of humanitarian aid, while more than 11 million have been forced to flee their homes. Millions of Syrian children suffer from trauma and ill health, and more than half of Syria’s hospitals have been destroyed.

Both the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) released statements today appealing for funds to help “pull Syrians out of their nightmare of suffering”. They called the Syrian conflict the “worst humanitarian crisis of our era” and stressed that it “should be galvanizing a global outcry of support, but instead help is dwindling.”

UNICEF says more investment is needed to support the 14 million young adolescents across the region who have been suffering from the escalating conflict sweeping Syria and much of Iraq. In Syria, the situation of more than 5.6 million children inside the country remains especially desperate. That includes up to two million children who are living in areas largely cut off from humanitarian assistance due to fighting or other factors. Some 2.6 million Syrian children are still out of school.

“As the crisis enters its fifth year, this generation of young people is still in danger of being lost to a cycle of violence – replicating in the next generation what they suffered in their own,” UNICEF Director-General Anthony Lake said in a statement to the press.

The problem is wide spreading, according to UNICEF almost two million Syrian children are living as refugees in neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and other countries. And the 3.6 million children in host communities already face strains on critical health and education services. In Iraq, some 2.8 million children have been forcibly displaced, many of them trapped in areas under control of armed groups.

“For the youngest children, this crisis is all they have ever known,” said Mr. Lake. “For adolescent entering their formative years, violence and suffering have not only scarred their past; they are shaping their futures.”

If fully funded, UNICEF’s programmes will aim to meet the needs of children and adolescents in the short-term but also equip them with the necessary skills to build a more stable future, including through learning opportunities for children impacted by conflict, and psychosocial care for vulnerable children, including survivors of violence.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency highlighted the plight of all refugees today, saying that with no political solution to the conflict in sight, most of the 3.9 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt see no prospect of returning home in the near future, and have scant opportunity to restart their lives in exile as many of them live in insecure dwellings and in poverty.

“After years in exile, refugees’ savings are long depleted and growing numbers are resorting to begging, survival sex and child labour. Middle-class families with children are barely surviving on the streets: one father said life as a refugee was like being stuck in quicksand – every time you move, you sink down further,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said today.

“With humanitarian appeals systematically underfunded, there just isn’t enough aid to meet the colossal needs – nor enough development support to the hosting countries creaking under the strain of so many refugees,” he added.

Faced with growing security concerns and insufficient international support, several of Syria’s neighbours have taken measures in recent months to stem the flow of refugees, from new border management regulations to more onerous and complex requirements to extend their stay. Many risk their lives to make it to Europe, and those who do face rising hostility.

“Refugees are made scapegoats for any number of problems from terrorism to economic hardship and perceived threats to their host communities’ way of life. But we need to remember that the primary threat is not from refugees, but to them,” Mr. Guterres said, adding that only half of the funds needed has been raised. He hoped for more pledges at a conference in Kuwait on 31 March.

To raise awareness on the dire situation Syrians face, the UN has launched a #WhatDoesItTake social media campaign to give the public, Member States and the wider international community express their frustrations and urge support. People can participation by posting a picture of themselves holding up the sign #WhatDoesItTake and then posting the picture to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag. All images will be captured on the campaign website released creating on online photo wall of solidarity.

More than 20 UN and humanitarian leaders have already signed up for the campaign, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as well as the heads of UN agencies including World Health Organization (WHO), World Food Programme (WFP), and UN Development Programme (UNDP), among others.

Source: United Nations


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