Urgent call for massive investment to prevent lost generation of Syrian children

Press Releases, 7 January 2014

GENEVA, 7 January 2014 UNICEF, UNHCR, Save the Children, World Vision and other partners today called for governments, aid agencies and members of the public to become champions for the children of Syria and support a "No Lost Generation" strategy to protect a generation of Syrian children from a life of despair, diminished opportunities and broken futures.

Through the US$1 billion strategy, the organizations are focusing donor and public support on critical education and protection programmes to lift Syrian children out of misery, isolation and trauma. The strategy is being publically unveiled one week ahead of a major donor conference in Kuwait for humanitarian aid for Syria.

A major public engagement campaign under the hashtag #childrenofsyria is also being launched, using social media to enlist influential supporters and public contributors.

"The future for these children is slipping away, but there is still a chance to save them," said UNHCR High Commissioner António Guterres. "The world must answer this crisis with immediate, massive international support."

For nearly three years, Syria's children have been the most vulnerable of all victims of the conflict, say the four organizations, seeing their families and loved ones killed, their schools destroyed and their hopes eroded. They have been wounded either physically, psychologically or both. Children have also become vulnerable to the worst types of exploitation including child labour, recruitment into armed groups and forces, early marriage and other forms of gender based violence.

Over one million Syrian refugees are children, of which more than 425,000 are under the age of five. The vast majority of these refugees have fled either to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq. Among them, nearly 8,000 children have been identified as being separated from their immediate families. The situation for the over three million displaced children inside Syria is even more dire.

UNHCR, UNICEF, Save the Children, World Vision and other partners across the region will channel the $1 billion into programmes that, in partnership with governments and local communities, deliver safe education, protection from exploitation, abuse and violence, psychological care and support and offer more opportunities for social cohesion and stability in an already volatile region.

These programmes include strengthening national and community-based child protection systems, which respond to the needs of girls, boys and families at high risk of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence while protecting all children against such risks.

The initiative will also scale up access to quality education, through formal and non-formal approaches, introducing accelerated curricula for children who have been out of school, vocational training, training of teachers and incentive programmes, creating safe environments that further reduce children's exposure to further risks.

Inside Syria, safe access to education for school-age children and adolescents who are internally displaced is absolutely critical. The "No Lost Generation" initiative will provide remedial education and psychosocial support organized in school clubs for pre-schoolers and other out-of-school children.

"Without these urgent investments, millions of Syrian children may never recover from so much loss and fear," said Guterres. "Their future, and the future of their nation, is at stake."

A special website has been established at http://www.championthechildrenofsyria.org that tells the stories of children affected by the conflict, and shows how investments in children can deliver important dividends, not just for the current victims of the war but for the longer-term future of Syria and the wider region.

Note to Editors

Most of the funding for the No Lost Generation initiative is being sought through two existing appeals the Regional Response Plan aimed at addressing the needs of Syria's child refugees and The Syrian Humanitarian Assistance response plan which addresses the needs of Syrian children who are internally displaced.

Download the summary document of the “No Lost Generation” strategy

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Haunted by a sinking ship

Thamer and Thayer are two brothers from Syria who risked their lives in the hope of reaching Europe. The sea voyage was fraught with danger. But home had become a war zone.

Before the conflict, they led a simple life in a small, tight-knit community they describe as "serene". Syria offered them hope and a future. Then conflict broke out and they were among the millions forced to flee, eventually finding their way to Libya and making a desperate decision.

At a cost of US$ 2,000 each, they boarded a boat with over 200 others and set sail for Italy. They knew that capsizing was a very real possibility. But they hadn't expected bullets, fired by militiamen and puncturing their boat off the coast of Lampedusa.

As water licked their ankles, the brothers clung to one another in the chaos. "I saw my life flash before my eyes," recalls Thayer. "I saw my childhood. I saw people from when I was young. Things I thought I no longer remembered."

After ten terrifying hours, the boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, throwing occupants overboard. Rescue, when it finally came, was too late for many.

Theirs was the second of two deadly shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa last October. Claiming hundreds of lives, the disasters sparked a debate on asylum policy in Europe, leading Italian authorities to launch the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation. To date, it has saved more than 80,000 people in distress at sea.

Eight months on, having applied for asylum in a sleepy coastal town in western Sicily, Thamer and Thayer are waiting to restart their lives.

"We want to make our own lives and move on," they explain.

Haunted by a sinking ship

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

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

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