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Child recruitment, child labour, discrimination and loneliness – the crisis of Syria's refugee children

Press Releases, 29 November 2013

A UNHCR survey of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon and Jordan has found widespread psychological distress, many children living alone or separated from their parents, most receiving no education, and extensive involvement of children in illegal labour.

The report, The Future of Syria Refugee Children in Crisis, released today, is the first in-depth survey conducted by UNHCR of Syrian refugee children since the conflict began in March 2011. Among its findings are that many Syrian refugee children are growing up in fractured families, and that children are often the

household's primary breadwinners. Over 70,000 Syrian refugee families live without fathers and over 3,700 refugee children are either unaccompanied by or separated from both parent s.

"If we do not act quickly, a generation of innocents will become lasting casualties of an appalling war," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie said, "The world must act to save a generation of traumatized, isolated and suffering Syrian children from catastrophe."

The 32-month conflict is leaving physical and emotional scars. In Lebanon, the first six months of 2013 saw 741 Syrian refugee children being referred to hospitals for treatment of injuries. In Jordan, more than 1,000 children at the Za'atri camp have been treated for war-related injuries over the past year.

Anger and other emotional responses were also common: During focus group discussions with refugee boys, several expressed a desire to return to Syria to fight. The researchers also heard a report of boys being trained to fight in preparation for return to Syria.

In many cases, refugee families lacking financial re! sources send their children to work to ensure survival. In both Jordan and Lebanon, the researchers found children as young as seven years working long hours for little pay, sometimes in dangerous or exploitative conditions. In Za'atri refugee camp, Jordan, most of the 680 small shops employ children. An assessment in 11 of Jordan's 12 governorates found nearly one-in-two refugee households surveyed relied partly or entirely on income generated by a child.

The UNHCR research details a painful life of isolation, exclusion and insecurity for many refugee children. Of those interviewed, 29 per cent said that they leave their home once a week or less. Home is often a crammed apartment, a makeshift shelter or a tent.

The study includes multiple testimonies from children. Nadia, a newly arrived refugee in Jordan said, "our lives are destroyed. We are not being educated, and without education there is nothing. We're heading towards destruction."

The report shows that more Syrian child refugees are out of school than in. More than half of those in Jordan are not in school. In Lebanon, it is estimated that some 200,000 school-aged Syrian refugee children could remain out of school at the end of the year.

Another disturbing symptom of the crisis is the vast number of babies born in exile without birth certificates an essential document in the battle against statelessness. A recent UNHCR survey on birth registration in Lebanon revealed that 77 per cent of 781 refugee infants sampled had no official birth certificate. Between January and mid-October 2013, only 68 certificates were issued to babies born in Za'atri camp.

The report details the massive effort mounted by the UN, NGOs, host governments and refugees themselves to address the suffering of refugee children. Financial assistance to refugee families is offered by UNHCR to help destitute and struggling families. The report profiles the creative effort! s of UNH CR, UNICEF, Save the Children and other NGOs to give children a chance to resume their education. Generosity and kindness of host communities is a recurrent theme.

There are over 1.1 million Syrian refugee children, most living in neighbouring countries. Demanding that "this shameful milestone of conflict must deliver more than headlines", Mr Guterres and Ms Jolie called for support for Syria's neighbours to keep their borders open, improve their services and support the host communities. They also appealed for countries beyond Syria's borders to offer resettlement and humanitarian admission to people who continue to feel unsafe in exile, and families with seriously wounded children.

After nearly a thousand days of conflict, the report's aim is to refocus attention on the plight of Syrian refugee children. The findings are being presented via a multimedia microsite http://unhcr.org/FutureOfSyria also subject to the 0500 GMT 29 Nov 2013 embargo] that features photographs, videos and easily tweetable quotes and statistics. Some of the videos were shot with GoPro cameras that followed children in Za'atari camp. The site appeals directly to individuals to share the children's stories, consider donating and write a message of solidarity that will be sha red with Syrian refugee children.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FOR JOURNALISTS

The full report, copies of this press release in Spanish, French, and Arabic, and a package of accompanying multimedia materials are available under strict embargo of not for use before 0500 GMT, 29 November 2013 at http://www.unhcr.org/media-futureofsyria

  • Lebanon: Melissa Fleming (+41 79 557 9122), Roberta Russo (+961 71 910 320)
  • Jordan: Kilian Kleinschmidt (+962 79 949 0361), Peter Kessler (+962-79-631-7901)

  • London: Andrej Mahecic (+44 788 023 0985 or +44 207 759 8091), Laura Padoan +44 777 556 6127 or +44 207 759 8092), Adrian Edwards (+41 79 557 9120)
  • Geneva [English]: Sybella Wilkes (+41 79 557 9138), Dan McNorton (+41 79 217 3011), Babar Baloch (+41 557 9106)
  • Geneva [French/English]: Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba (+41 79 249 3483)
  • Geneva [Urdu/Pashto/English] +92 300 5017939 / +41 22 739 8250
  • Geneva [Portuguese/Spanish/English]: Luiz Fernando Gomez +41 76 378 6297
  • Washington: Brian Hansford (+1 202 999 8253)

WEBLINKS

Related photos, video b-roll, the report etc are available at: http://www.unhcr.org/media-futureofsyria

Help Syria's refugees by visiting: http://donate.unhcr.org/syria

Need a UNHCR press contact in your own country? http://www.unhcr.org/4a09806215.html

Microsite: http://unhcr.org/FutureOfSyria

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UNHCR country pages

Jihan's Story

Like millions, 34-year-old Jihan was willing to risk everything in order to escape war-torn Syria and find safety for her family. Unlike most, she is blind.

Nine months ago, she fled Damascus with her husband, Ashraf, 35, who is also losing his sight. Together with their two sons, they made their way to Turkey, boarding a boat with 40 others and setting out on the Mediterranean Sea. They hoped the journey would take eight hours. There was no guarantee they would make it alive.

After a treacherous voyage that lasted 45 hours, the family finally arrived at a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, called Milos - miles off course. Without support or assistance, they had to find their own way to Athens.

The police detained them for four days upon their arrival. They were cautioned to stay out of Athens, as well as three other Greek cities, leaving them stranded.

By now destitute and exhausted, the family were forced to split up - with Ashraf continuing the journey northwards in search of asylum and Jihan taking their two sons to Lavrion, an informal settlement about an hour's drive from the Greek capital.

Today, Jihan can only wait to be reunited with her husband, who has since been granted asylum in Denmark. The single room she shares with her two sons, Ahmed, 5, and Mohammad, 7, is tiny, and she worries about their education. Without an urgent, highly complex corneal transplant, her left eye will close forever.

"We came here for a better life and to find people who might better understand our situation," she says, sadly. "I am so upset when I see how little they do [understand]."

Jihan's Story

The Charcoal Boys: Child Labour in Lebanon

Bebnine is one of many small towns in northern Lebanon that have seen an influx of Syrian refugees in recent months. Many of the new residents are children, whose education has been disrupted. A lot of them must work to support their families instead of studying to lay the foundations for a bright future. This set of photographs by Andrew McConnell, documents one group of boys who risk their health by working for a charcoal seller in Bebnine. Aged between 11 and 15 years old, they earn the equivalent of less than 70 US cents an hour filling, weighing and carrying sacks of charcoal. It's hard work and after an average eight-hour day they are covered in charcoal dust. Throughout the region, an estimated one in ten Syrian refugee children is engaged in child labour.

The Charcoal Boys: Child Labour in Lebanon

For Starters, a Tent: A Syrian Teacher Opens a School in Jordan

In the semi-rural area of Kherbet Al-Souk, on the outskirts of Amman, Syrian refugees struggling to get their children into crowded state schools have taken matters into their own hands. They have set up a simple school in their small informal settlement of about 500 refugees. The families had lived in Za'atri or Al-Aghwar camps, but moved out to be closer to other relatives and to access basic services in the capital. But ensuring education for all refugee children in Jordan has proved difficult for the government and its partners, including UNHCR. According to the UN, more than half of all Syrian refugee children in Jordan are not in school. In Kherbet Al-Souk, the refugee-run school consists of a large tent where the students sit on the ground with their text books. All of the students take classes together with the younger children in the front. Before, they spent a lot of time playing, but they were not learning anything. One refugee, Jamal, decided to do something about it. Photographer Shawn Baldwin met Jamal and visited the school in a tent. These are some of the images he took.

For Starters, a Tent: A Syrian Teacher Opens a School in Jordan

The Fight for Survival – Syrian Women AlonePlay video

The Fight for Survival – Syrian Women Alone

Lina has not heard from her husband since he was detained in Syria two years ago. Now a refugee in Lebanon, she lives in a tented settlement with her seven children.
Syria: A Heartbreaking Human TragedyPlay video

Syria: A Heartbreaking Human Tragedy

As the conflict in Syria grinds on, UNHCR and its partners are calling on donors to dig deep to help refugees and host communities.
Jordan: Waiting for the PopePlay video

Jordan: Waiting for the Pope

Pope Francis will visit Jordan on Saturday (May 24, 2014), where he will be meeting with refugees. The Sabra family, Christian refugees from Syria, will have the chance to meet the Pope face to face.