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A million refugee children mark shameful milestone in Syria crisis

Press Releases, 23 August 2013

UNHCR/UNICEF Joint Press Release

With Syria's war well into its third year, the number of Syrian children forced to flee their homeland as refugees will reach one million today.

"This one millionth child refugee is not just another number," said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. "This is a real child ripped from home, maybe even from a family, facing horrors we can only begin to comprehend."

"We must all share the shame," said Lake, "because while we work to alleviate the suffering of those affected by this crisis, the global community has failed in its responsibility to this child. We should stop and ask ourselves how, in all conscience, we can continue to fail the children of Syria."

"What is at stake is nothing less than the survival and wellbeing of a generation of innocents," said UNHCR High Commissioner António Guterres. "The youth of Syria are losing their homes, their family members and their futures. Even after they have crossed a border to safety, they are traumatized, depressed and in need of a reason for hope."

Children make up half of all refugees from the Syria conflict, according to the two agencies. Most have arrived in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Increasingly, Syrians are fleeing to North Africa and Europe.

Latest figures show that some 740,000 Syrian child refugees are under the age of 11.

Inside Syria, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, some 7,000 children have been killed during the conflict. UNHCR and UNICEF estimate that more than 2 million children have been internally displaced within Syria.

The physical upheaval, fear, stress and trauma experienced by so many children account for just part of the human crisis. Both agencies also highlight the threats to refugee children from child labour, early marriage and the potential for sexual exploitation and trafficking. More than 3,500 children in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq have crossed Syria's borders either unaccompanied or separated from their families.

The largest humanitarian operation in history has seen UNHCR and UNICEF mobilizing support to millions of affected families and children.

For example, more than 1.3 million children in refugee and host communities in neighbouring countries have been vaccinated against measles this year with the support of UNICEF and its partners. Nearly 167,000 refugee children have received psychosocial assistance; more than 118,000 children have been able to maintain their education inside and out of formal schools.

UNHCR has registered all 1 million children, giving them an identity. The agency helps babies born in exile get birth certificates, preventing them from becoming stateless. UNHCR also ensures that all refugee families and children live in some form of safe shelter.

But more remains to be done say the two agencies. The Syria Regional Refugee Response plan, which calls for US$3 billion dollars to address the acute needs of refugees until December of this year is currently only 38 per cent funded.

More than US$5 billion has been called for to address the Syria crisis, with critical needs in education, health care and other services for children and child members of host communities. More resources need to be devoted to developing strong networks to identify refugee children at risk and to provide them, and their host communities, with support.

But more funds are only part of the response needed to address children's needs.

While intensified efforts are needed to find a political solution to the crisis in Syria, parties to the conflict must stop targeting civilians and cease recruitment of children. Children and their families must be safe to leave Syria and borders must remain open so they can cross to safety.

Those who fail to meet these obligations under international humanitarian law should be held fully accountable for their actions, say the two agencies.


Accompanying embargoed video, photos, and infographics materials are available for download at http://unhcr.org/1m/.


About UNICEF:

UNICEF works in more than 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world's largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit http://www.unicef.org.

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About UNHCR:

http://www.unhcr.org @refugees @refugeesmedia

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also known as the UN refugee agency, was established on December 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. It is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country. It also has a mandate to help stateless people. In more than six decades, the agency has helped tens of millions of people restart their lives.


Press Contacts:

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  • Juliette Touma, UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Regional Office, Tel. +962 79 867 4628; jtouma@unicef.org
  • Marixie Mercado, UNICEF Geneva, Tel. +41 22 909 5716 and Mobile +41 79 756 7703; mmercado@unicef.org
  • Kate Donovan, UNICEF New York, Tel. +1 212 326 7452 and Mobile +1 917 378 2128; kdonovan@unicef.org
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Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

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