A million refugee children in Syria Crisis – UNHCR and UNICEF calling for the support of all Hong Kong citizens

UNHCR and UNICEF have started the largest humanitarian operation in history, calling for all Hong Kong citizens to pay the utmost concern and to support the refugee children in Syria.

Syrian refugee Aya, 8-years-old, poses for a photograph with her father Mohammad outside of their home in an informal settlement in Dalhamiyeh in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Aya's family has been living in Lebanon for 2 years. They fled Syria shortly after the war started following a massacre in Homs. UNHCR/Photo by Shawn Baldwin

(HONG KONG SAR CHINA, 23 AUGUST 2013) With Syria’s war well into its third year, the one millionth refugee child appeared today, signifying a million of Syrian children have been forced to flee their homeland as refugees. The number closes to the total number of children aged under 18 in Hong Kong(up to mid 2012).  The physical upheaval, fear, stress and trauma experienced by children could bring irreversible damages and threats to their growth. UNHCR and UNICEF have started the largest humanitarian operation in history, calling for all Hong Kong citizens to pay the utmost concern and to support the refugee children in Syria.

After the outbreak of Syrian civil war, 5,000,000 people are affected and 1,880,000 of them are forced to become refugees, in which half are children. Latest figures show that more than 740,000 Syrian child refugees are even under the age of 11.

Thousands of children have experienced physical upheaval, fear, stress and trauma. Both UNHCR and UNICEF highlight the threats to refugee children from child labour, early marriage and the risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking. The largest humanitarian operation in history has seen UNHCR and UNICEF mobilizing support to millions of affected families and children.

This year alone, UNICEF has provided nearly 167,000 children with psychosocial assistance and more than 118,000 children with education, ensuring their rights to education are not deprived by the conflict. Besides, UNHCR has registered all one million children, giving them an identity, preventing them from becoming stateless, and provided them with safe shelters.

The crisis is not yet over. The Syria Regional Refugee Response plan, which calls for HK$23.4 billion (US$3 billion), is currently only 38 per cent funded. More support is needed to rescue these vulnerable children.

Facing such large-scale and urgent needs, the UNHCR Sub-Office at Hong Kong SAR China (UNHCR HK) and the Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF HK) are appealing for additional support from the general public of Hong Kong to address the Syria Crisis:

  • Online donation: You can donate to help the children in Syria through the website of UNHCR (www.unhcr.org/hk)and UNICEF HK (www.unicef.org.hk/syria). The fund raised will be used in responding the critical needs of refugee children in education, health care and other services, supporting the humanitarian operation in Syria.
  • Spreading the needs of children in Syria Crisis: You can share the life stories of the Syrian Crisis through UNHCR and UNICEF HK Facebook pages, to arouse more attention to the Syria Crisis from the public.

UNHCR and UNICEF have also been putting intensified effort to find a political solution to the crisis in Syria, to ensure that children and their families must be safe to leave Syria and borders must remain open so they can cross to safety.

Chief Executive of UNICEF HK, Ms Irene Chan said, “UNICEF and its partners are striving to alleviate the suffering ofcrisis-affected people. One million child refugees is not just a number. This is a real child ripped from home, maybe even from family. We can no longer fail more children.” Head of Office of UNHCR HK, Mr Philip Karani said, “UNHCR HK has actively responded to emergency needs of the Syrian refugees, bringing hope to Syrian children.”

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A real story in a million:

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Aya (Left), an 8 years-old cheerful girl. She taught her elder sister, who suffered from Down’s syndrome, how to bath, wear clothes and eat, showing great care over her. They became the best friend of each other.© UNHCR / S. Baldwin

Aya and her family fled from Syria to Lebanon two years ago. Coming to an unfamiliar territory, the family of nine lived in a narrow temporary shelter.© UNHCR / S. Baldwin

Aya (left) is preparing dinner with one of her elder sisters (right). Although they received monthly food stamps, the food amount could only meet the demand for more than half month.© UNHCR / S. Baldwin

Aya, an 8 years-old cheerful girl, fled from Syria to Lebanon two years ago.

Coming to an unfamiliar territory, the family of nine lived in a narrow temporary shelter. Although they received monthly food stamps from UNHCR, the food amount could only meet the demand for more than half month.

When Aya’s elder brother and sister worked in fields, earning HK$31.2 a day (US$4), she had to take care of her 11-year-old elder sister, Libaba, who suffered from Down’s syndrome.

Aya taught her elder sister how to bath, wear clothes and eat, showing great care over her. They became the best friend of each other.

Although Aya’s elder brothers and sisters got opportunities to receive education, Aya was out of school because of wars. The family could not afford the transportation fee of Aya to school as well. Therefore, studious Aya would ask questions when her sisters came back from school. Aya hoped to be a paediatrician in the future and to cure poor children at no charge.

This story is only a tip of an iceberg. With the emergence of the one millionth refugee child, the humanitarian work of UNHCR and UNICEF in Syria should be in no delay and demand further support from the society. UNICEF also supports local NGO partners in providing psychological interventions, speech therapy and physiotherapy in a child friendly centre for Syrian children and their families.

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About UNHCR

  • Since 1951, UNHCR is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide.
  • UNHCR is governed by the UN General Assembly. The primary purpose of UNHCR is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees by coordinating the international humanitarian operation.
  • UNHCR works in 124 countries. In 2012, more than 45.2 million people were in situations of displacement. This includes 15.4 million refugees, 937,000 asylum seekers, and 28.8 million people forced to flee within the borders of their own countries. 46% of refugees are children.
  • Today, UNHCR’s work in Hong Kong includes conducting refugee status determination, doing protection monitoring, doing capacity building, lobbying for and giving advice on protection needs of persons of concern, fundraising for UNHCR’s global refugee program and looking for durable solutions for refugees in Hong Kong.
  • UNHCR is the 1954 and 1981 Nobel Peace Prize Winner.

About UNICEF

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is the world’s leading UN organisation working specifically for children, with a presence in more than 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. Since our establishment in 1946, we have been working with other UN agencies, governments and NGOs to ensure children’s rights to survival, development, protection and participation.

UNICEF is at the forefront to achieve ZERO SUFFERING for children worldwide. There has been substantial progress: UNICEF has contributed to saving 14,000 more children’s lives than was the case in 1990. But still, 19,000 children die each day from preventable causes, and 6.9 million children are not reaching their fifth birthday every year. Our mission does not stop at “14,000 fewer” deaths per day. We stop at ZERO.

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For more information please contact:

UNHCR Sub-Office at Hong Kong SAR China
Maggie Chum, Fundraising Officer    (Communication)
Tel / Mobile: 2206 0204 / 6010 9961
Email: CHUM@unhcr.org

Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF
Joyce Chan, Assistant Manager – Communication
Tel / Mobile: 2836 2930 / 9810 2541
Email: jchan@unicef.org.hk

Conan Ng, Communication Officer

Tel / Mobile: 2836 2967 / 9838 9640
Email: conan.ng@unicef.org.hk