Syrian Children Refugee Crisis
It has been said that there are over 3 million Syrian refugees as a result of the civil war, and 6.5 million internally displaced persons still within Syria (World Vision, 2014). Furthermore, according to figures in September, it is said that there are “[m]ore than 1.5 million Syrian children [who] are refugees.” And as of June, 2014, there was said to be over a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and that “Syrians now make up a quarter of the population in this tiny Mediterranean country” (The Guardian, 2014), and of the total Syrian refugees, as of September, 600000 were children (ABC News, 2014). The conditions of the refugees are horrible. Many of them were unable to take belongings with them, or little more than what they had in their hands. Furthermore, there is little in terms of food, and thus, poverty numbers are high. Moreover, this is couple with the lack of employment opportunities (Guardian, 2014). And this has had a detrimental effect on children.
Syrian Children Refugees
The children face a number of challenges as refugees. As World Vision (2014) explains, “Children are especially susceptible to malnutrition and diseases related to poor sanitation. Many suffer from diarrheal diseases and dehydration. Because of the breakdown of the Syrian health system and lack of adequate immunization, there have been outbreaks of measles and even polio in Syria and among refugee children. Malnutrition cases are increasing. Children are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation in unfamiliar and overcrowded conditions. Without adequate income to support their families and fearful of their daughters being molested, parents — especially single mothers — may opt to arrange marriage for girls as young as 13.”
In addition, because of the horrible poverty conditions facing families, and due to a shortage of job opportunities, children are often send to work, in order to bring additional income to the family (Guardian, 2014), or in some cases, it is the only income that a family has (Francis, Muir, & Romo, 2014). It is said that there are “between 180,000 and 300,000 child laborers in Lebanon, many of them Syrian” (Guardian, 2014).
These children are tasked to do a number of work, but many end up working in the fields. As the Guardian (2014) explains, for a number of “…children working in the fields of Lebanon’s Beqaa valley, the day begins at 6am. They are collected by pick-up truck from the tented settlement where they live and taken to the fields to begin work. They will be paid about $6.50…a day, but $1.30 of this will be kept by the Shaweesh, the coordinator who runs the camp and arranges for the children to work.” The reason that so many children are working in these farming fields is because, as a child quoted in the Guardian says, “Farmers prefer to hire kids because they can do anything they want to them. They can hit them if they want, they can make them work long hours. Men won’t stand for this.” But in addition to the farms, many other children are working in the streets, selling various items. It is here that many “are vulnerable to theft, physical and sexual abuse and even trafficking” (The Guardian, 2014).
One of the other effects of the war on the Syrian children refugees is their lack of access to education. It is said that “at least 3 million children have left education. And in the case of Syrian children refugees in Lebanon, of the 600,000 Syrian children refugees in Lebanon, half are not in school (Francis, Muir, & Romo, 2014). Overall, it is said that 480,000 Syrian children refugees are not in school (UNICEF, 2014). For children in Syria, the reasons are many: schools destroyed or occupied by warring groups or displaced families, teachers absent or deceased, and insecurity” (World Vision, 2014). For example, teachers who used to educate the children have now moved to other sectors in order to work (Francis, Muir, & Romo, 2014), leaving little instructional support for education.
Furthermore, “[f]or refugee families that don’t live in camps, paying rent and other expenses can make it difficult for parents to afford books, uniforms, and tuition fees for their children. In some cases, children must give up school and start work to help provide for their families. In Lebanon, the government has opened public schools to Syrian children, but language barriers, overcrowding, and the cost of transportation keep many refugee children out of school.” It is also difficult for kids to go to school since many of the children have to work throughout the day (Guardian, 2014). In fact, children who have to work often speak about the want to attend school, and the enjoyment that they find from learning. However, because of the harsh conditions facing the children and their families, many children are unable to attend classes. And yet, many of them desire greatly to go to school. As Sarah Shouman of UNICEF was quoted as saying, “They come running here,” said UNICEF’s Sarah Shouman. “And you say, ‘Jeez, they’ll be so exhausted from work,’ but they’re so excited about coming to school that they run home, grab a sandwich and run straight to school. We’re trying to save at least part of their childhood and trying to make sure that they’ve got some sort of education that they can help support them for life” (Francis, Muir, & Romo, 2014).
Along with these various issues, many of the children been through highly traumatic events, often witnessing killings, experiencing the death of parents. There has not been enough support for the Syrian refugee children to speak with professionals about what they have went through. For example, in a September 27, 2014 Washington Post article by Kareem Shaheen (2014), that there is “a devastating mental-health crisis that is taking hold among Syria’s refugee children, many of whom fled destruction at home into neighboring Lebanon, only to suffer the trauma of displacement–as well as exploitation, communal tensions and domestic violence.” He goes on tot say that “[t]he stress has left many with mental illness that include anxiety disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and developmental problems.” Plus, Anthony MacDonald, who is the chief of child protection at the UNICEF in the country of Lebanon, says that once these refugees enter into Lebanon, for example, there is a “re-trauma”, where, along with what they have experienced in Syria, they also face additional issues of poverty, lack of education, violence, etc… (Shaheen, 2014). And according to a multi-organizational survey of 1,100 Syrian children, “41 percent of Syrians in Lebanon between the ages of 15 and 24 have contemplated suicide” (in Shaheen, 2014). Part of the reason for the inability to provide adequate mental health support has been that much of the aid attention has been on “immediate shelter and food assistance while neglecting mental support” (Shaheen, 2014). Now of course shelter and food is a top priority, should mental health support should also be a primary focus with regards to helping refugees. And according to Zeina Hassan, who is “the mental-health technical manager at International Medical Corps,” in the case of Lebanon, there is little in terms of such infrastructure, and little knowledge about mental health even among those who are assisting the refugees (in Shaheen, 2014).
Another problem that we are seeing is that many countries have not been as open with their borders with regards to brining in refugees. In the case of the United States, for example, they only accepted 36 children into their borders last year (Gambino & Jalabi, 2014). As Gambino and Jalabi (2014) explain, “Though the US has recently pledged to accept thousands more over the next few years, the resettlement process is complex and protracted. In some cases, refugees are left waiting in camps for up to three years before they are cleared to board a plane to America. This is in part due to sweeping US counter-terrorism laws that have, until recently, been ensnaring Syrians who pose no threat.” Many have argued that the US’ prime interest is not resettlement, having only resettled 191 refugees from Syria since early 2011 (Gambino & Jalabi, 2014). And on Wednesday October 8th, 2014, Rana F. Sweis of the New York Times reported that Jordan is not allowing refugees to enter into the country. The last time that aid workers saw refugees come into Jordan was on October 1st, 2014, although the government has denied this. Some suggest that this is due to heightened security, particularly given Jordan’s actions against ISIS, as well as their proximity to the country (Sweis, 2014).
Yet, despite these various challenges, various international organizations are working tirelessly to help provide aid to Syrian refugees. With regards to children, UNICEF’s (2014) goal in 2014 was to have “1.3 million children vaccinated against measles [,] 949,800 emergency affected people have access to safe water [,] [and] 666,324 school-age children [to] have access to education.” Groups such UNICEF and their partnering organizations have aimed to install water pumps, promote hygiene in schools, as well as providing various necessities, which include school supplies, as well as other school issues that aim to help against the school fees that are levied, along with other challenges to access to education (UNICEF, 2014). Furthermore, they are also working on providing the Polio vaccine throughout the Middle East, as well as keeping an eye on the nutrition that children are receiving (UNICEF, 2014).
Moreover, UNICEF explains that along with “immediate humanitarian response interventions in education and child protection,
“This will be coupled with longer-term support for strengthen education and protection infrastructure and systems, which will in turn, help to build the resilience of children and their communities. UNICEF and partners will continue to provide learning materials, teacher training, temporary classrooms and other support to ensure all refugee children are able to go to school in safe and protective spaces. Additionally, psycho-social programmes will be strengthened and expanded to deal with the psychological distress that children are suffering. Enrolment in school can ensure children have access to key life-saving messages related to health and nutrition and can reduce children’s vulnerability to recruitment and other threats.”
Others are finding other ways to help children deal with issues such as mental health. For example, in Lebanon, “[m]ost aid organizations here provide what they describe as “psychosocial support” for youth who have been displaced from Syria, including activities and awareness programs aimed at highlighting issues of abuse and early marriage and teaching parents how to positively discipline their children. They offer accelerated learning programs, communal activities involving refugees and Lebanese families hosting them, and drama and art therapy” (Shaheen, 2014). Furthermore, “They also have set up “child-friendly spaces” aimed at getting the children to relax and express themselves. The walls are adorned with artwork by Syrian children, and young aid workers organize play activities” (Shaheen, 2014). Thus, there are organizations such as International Medical Corps who are working on such issues (Shaheen, 2014).
In addition to all of these actions that human rights and humanitarian organizations, as well as aid workers are taking, with winter approaching, UNICEF has said that “[s]easonal response plans are being put in place to protect children from the worst of winter weather conditions through the provision of winter clothes, blankets and heating for classrooms.”
Francis, E., Muir, D. & Romo, C. (2014). Childhood Interrupted: Syrian Refugee Children Forced to Work. World News, in ABC News. September 2, 2014. Available Online: http://abcnews.go.com/International/childhood-interrupted-syrian-refugee-children-forced-work/story?id=25221155
Gambino, L. & Jalabi, R. (2014). Syria’s Civil War has Forced 3m Refugees to Flee the Country–Why is the US Accepting so Few? The Guardian, Tuesday 7 October 2014. Available Online: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/06/syria-refugees-syria-civil-war-guide
Guardian (2014). Syrian Refugee Children in Lebanon Forced to Seek Work-In Pictures. Thursday 12 June, 2014. Available Online: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/jun/12/-sp-syrian-refugee-children-in-lebanon-forced-to-seek-work-in-pictures
Shaheen, K. (2014). Lebanon Ill-Equipped to Handle Mental-Health Issues of Syrian Refugee Crisis. The Washington Post, September 27, 2014. Available Online: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/lebanon-ill-equipped-to-handle-ptsd-in-children-of-syrian-refugeees/2014/09/27/4b035b44-4406-11e4-9a15-137aa0153527_story.html
Sweis, R. F. (2014). Jordan Turning Away Syrian Refugees, Aid Agencies Say. New York Times, October 8, 2014. Available Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/09/world/middleeast/syrian-refugees-jordan-border-united-nations.html?_r=0
UNFPA, et. al. (2014). Situation Analysis of Youth in Lebanon Affected by the Syrian Crisis, pages 1-193. Available Online: http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/download.php?id=6571.
UNICEF (2014). Syrian Refugees and Other Affected Population in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt. Humanitarian Action for Children. 03 September 2014. Available Online: http://www.unicef.org/appeals/syrianrefugees.html
World Vision (2014). FAQs: War in Syria, Children, and the Refugee Crisis. September 8, 2014. Available Online: http://www.worldvision.org/news-stories-videos/faqs-war-syria-children-and-refugee-crisis