It is estimated that approximately half of the 19.5 million registered refugees at a global level are children and youth. They are the most vulnerable victims of these conflicts. An estimated 37,000 children have been born as refugees and over 83,000 Syrian pregnant women are living as refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, placing a heavy burden on those countries health and social systems. For example, Lebanon is planning for 600,000 schoolchildren this year –twice the number currently enrolled.
Three years of conflict have turned Syria into one of the most dangerous places to be a child, according to UNICEF. Out of a population of 21.9 million, more than 9 million are under 18. It is estimated that 5.5 million children are affected by the conflict, a number that is almost double from the year before. More than 4.29 million children inside Syria are poor, displaced or caught in the line of fire.
In Syria, one million children are living in areas that aid workers cannot reach regularly, thus depriving them of vital support. More than a third of Syrian families are no longer living in their own homes or communities, seriously affecting their health and quality of life.
As a result of the fall in immunization rates –from 99 percent before the war to less than 50 percent now -polio has reemerged in Syria, after a 14-year absence. At the same time, doctors report an increase in the number and severity of cases of measles, pneumonia and diarrhea.
The capacity of the country’s health care system to provide assistance to the population has been seriously affected. Many doctors and health personnel have either been killed or have left the country. 60 percent of the public hospitals have been damaged or are out of service. Many times, militants bomb health care facilities, wait for first responders and emergency crews to come in and then strike again, thus maximizing the impact of their attacks.
Dr. Abdo El Ezz, an Aleppo physician says, “The war in Syria has violated and destroyed anything called “agreements” or “an agreement” or “human rights” or anything humanitarian…Hospitals are looking for coffins because people are pouring in, some are completely burned and soon die. We need to bury them…Some people wish to die so they can finally rest and not live in constant terror and see constant destruction.”
According to Europol, Europe’s policy agency, more than 10,000 thousand unaccompanied refugee and migrant children have disappeared, raising fears they are being exploited and used for sex.
In his poem “Children in Exile” Fenton writes,
‘What I am is not important, whether I live or die –
It is the same for me, the same for you.
What we do is important. This is what I have learnt.
It is not what we are but what we do,’
Says a child in exile, one of a family
Once happy in its size. Now there are four
Students of calamity, graduates of famine,
Those whom geography condemns to war…’