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Syria: ‘The tragedy is deepening’ as UN figures reveal nearly 5 million children have known nothing but war 

The suffering of the Syrian people during this tragic and terrible decade still defies comprehension and belief”, said Geir Pedersen, in a statement on Saturday. “Hundreds of thousands of Syrians, men and women, have lost their lives. Hundreds of thousands have been detained, abducted or are missing. Human rights abuses, crimes, destruction and destitution have taken place on a monumental scale.”

Half the population has fled their homes, the Syria Envoy continued, adding that “the fate of the Syrian people is precariously and inevitably linked to the broader region and the international community. The horrific and enduring nature of the conflict is proof of a collective failure of diplomacy.”

Renewed urgency needed to support peace effort

Despite a decade of attempts to end the brutal civil war, Mr. Pedersen said that “unprecedented levels of diplomatic cooperation and fortitude” are still needed and the parties “must meaningfully engage in negotiations”.

He called on the international community to “demonstrate a renewed sense of urgency in supporting the Syrians in finding a UN-facilitated political solution.”

In conclusion, Mr. Pedersen said the suffering of Syrians was simply catastrophic and must end: “The unity of all in the international community must coalesce toward the fulfillment of all Syrians’ legitimate aspirations. We must choose peace.”

WHO Syria
One of six mobile clinics provided by WHO to deliver health services to people fleeing violence in Aleppo, Syria. Photo: WHO Syria

Almost 5 million childen born into war: UNICEF

Around 4.8 million children have been born in Syria since the conflict began nine years ago, with an additional million born as refugees in neighbouring countries, said the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, in a statement released to mark the anniversary.

“The war in Syria marks yet another shameful milestone today,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore who was in Syria just last week. “As the conflict enters its 10th year, millions of children are entering their second decade of life surrounded by war, violence, death and displacement. The need for peace has never been more pressing.”

According to verified data from 2014, when official monitoring began, until the end of last year:

* More than 9,000 children were killed or injured in the conflict.

* Close to 5,000 children – some as young as seven – were recruited into the fighting.

* Nearly 1,000 education and medical facilities came under attack.

“The context in Syria is one of the most complex in the world”, said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Regional Director in the Middle East and North Africa.

“ Violence and active conflict sadly continue in several locations including in the northwest with severe consequences on children, while in other parts children are reconnecting with some of their lost childhood, slowly rebuilding their lives”, he added.

“It is evident, however, that nine years of brutal fighting brought the country to the brink”, he said, having accompanied the UNICEF chief on her Syria mission. “Families told us that in extreme cases they had no choice but to send their children to work or marry their girls early. No parent should be forced to make such decisions.”

In northwest Syria, the escalation in armed conflict, combined with harsh winter conditions and plummeting temperatures, on top of an already dire humanitarian crisis, have exacted a heavy toll.

More than 960,000 people, including more than 575,000 children, have been displaced since 1 December 2019.

In the northeast, at least 28,000 children from more than 60 countries – many the offspring of former extremist fighters, remain languishing in displacement camps, deprived of the most basic services. Only 765 children have been repatriated to their countries of origin as of January this year.

Stastics tell the story

UNICEF laid out the figures that reveal Syria’s continuing child and healthcare crisis:

* Two in five schools cannot be used because they are destroyed, damaged, sheltering displaced families or being used for military purposes.

* Over half of all health facilities are non-functional;

* More than 2.8 million children are out of school inside Syria and in neighbouring countries.

* Over two-thirds of children with physical or mental disabilities require specialized services that are unavailable in their area;

* Prices of basic items have increased 20-fold since the war began;

“The warring parties and those supporting them have failed to end the carnage in Syria,” said Ms. Fore: “Our message is clear: Stop hitting schools and hospitals. Stop killing and maiming children. Grant us the crossline and cross-border access we need to reach those in need. Far too many children have suffered for far too long.”

What have UNICEF and partners done to help?

UNICEF has worked with a wide variety of partners to help Syria’s children:

* Nearly 750,000 children have been given routine immunization or vaccinations against measles.

* Over 1 million have received psychosocial support.

* Nearly three million children have been given formal and non-formal education.

* Over 5.3 million people have been provided safe water through improvements to water supply systems.

* Nearly 2 million people with water, sanitation and hygiene facilities and sanitation services.

UNICEF said it currently needs $682 million to maintain these lifesaving programmes, but funding is short.

“The only solution to the crisis in Syria is through diplomatic means,” said Mr. Chaiban. “Humanitarian assistance will not end the war – but it will help keep children alive. We count on the generous support of our donors to keep supporting the children of Syria, despite all the other crises taking place in the region and around the world.”

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