Many of us think that the crisis in Syria is a political one. But it is not — it is a children’s crisis, and it is among the biggest in the world. Over 2 million children are affected by the violence in Syria, and over half a million children are refugees. While UNICEF and its partners are doing everything they can to help affected children and families, UNICEF’s efforts are severely underfunded. If funding is not received in the next weeks, millions of children will suffer. We are urgently calling on the entire donor community to support UNICEF’s emergency relief efforts in and around Syria.
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Join us on Thursday, February 28, at 10:00 AM EST, for a Google+ Hangout with Ted Chaiban, the director of Emergency Programs for UNICEF. Ted Chaiban has just come back from Syria, and will report firsthand on the impact the violence there has had on children.
At the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, Syria’s exiled children and their families are bracing themselves for the onset of winter. In Jordan’s northern and central regions, temperatures can easily drop below freezing during the winter months, and snowfall is not uncommon. Some of the displaced came prepared when they crossed Syria’s border to reach the camp, while other families came to Jordan with nothing. UNICEF is accelerating plans to winterize the camp and is scaling up assistance to Za’atari’s residents. Still, more help is needed as the temperatures continue to drop.
Freezing nights in winter are common in the U.S. That’s not a surprise. It turns out winter nights are also freezing in Syria. The days are often wet or snowy there and in other parts of the Middle East, where more than one million children are affected by Syria’s fighting. Now, in addition to facing danger, these children need hats and gloves, blankets and winter clothing. They need warm places to sleep and access to clean water, health care, and cooking supplies. Respiratory infections and other winter illnesses are a particular worry, since many of these children are especially vulnerable to getting sick due to the stress they have endured.
Razan Rashidi, communication officer with UNICEF in Damascus, describes how ordinary people have become essential partners to international organisations who are responding to the crisis. Thousands of people have had to leave their homes to seek refuge in safer places, often schools and mosques. By last weekend, at least 15 schools in Damascus and 18 more in outlying areas were housing displaced families. Some people have taken displaced families into their own homes, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for local residents to meet their own needs, let along those of their guests. Conditions in the local schools and mosques are not easy, either, and even young children are stepping up to help.
Sixteen months after the start of the unrest, assaults against civilians, human rights violations, mass arrests, torture, and execution-style killings of families, including children, continue to be a reality in Syria. To protect children from the ongoing violence and to help them regain a sense of normalcy, UNICEF and its partners are providing humanitarian assistance to families caught in Syria, as well as to those who have fled Syria to the neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. Getting displaced children back to school is a central focus of UNICEF’s efforts. School is not only important for educational purposes but also for children to make friends and develop routines to help them cope with trauma and loss. Despite repeated calls for an end to the violence in Syria, children continue to suffer as a result of the crisis. As more and more families flee the country, UNICEF urgently requires additional funding to be able to reach more Syrian children in need in the region.