1 million children have fled Syria as refugees: UNICEF

Above: UN officials discuss the tragic milestone of 1 million Syrian children refugees

VANCOUVER – There are now almost as many Syrian children living as refugees as there are children living in British Columbia.

UNICEF said there are now one million children registered as Syrian refugees, making up 50 per cent of the total number of people that have fled the war-torn country.

A further 2 million displaced children remain inside Syria‘s borders, the agency said.

Another alarming statistic the UNICEF pointed out is that 7,000 children have died since the civil war began 2.5 years ago.

David Morley, UNICEF Canada’s president and CEO, told Global News called the refugee situation a “humanitarian disaster.”

Read more: Where’s the public outcry over Syrian humanitarian crisis, experts ask

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He visited the Domiz refugee camp on the Iraq side of the Syrian border in June.

Video: Syrian children at Domiz refugee camp in Iraq

In an area set up to host 22,000 people there were 45,000 refugees — a number comparable to the population of Timmins, Ont.

But, that’s just one camp in one country.

The United Nations estimated, in June, there would be 3.5 million refugees living in camps in Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

At that time the agency asked donor countries for $5.2 billion to deal with the rising need for aid.

Education means protection

Morley explained, it’s not just shelter and food that’s required to care for refugees.

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Syria “was a middle class country” and a highly educated one at that, he said.

According to the CIA World Factbook, the Arab Republic had an overall literacy rate of 84.1 per cent in 2011 — 90.3 per cent for males and 77.7 per cent for females — which was on par with the world average.

But, without proper schooling literacy is at risk and children can be left vulnerable.

“I met a little girl [in Domiz]. She was 11 [and] would have been going into Grade 6. She hadn’t been in school for two years and she had forgotten how to read,” he said.
“Education is one of the best strengths that we can give [to children],” he said. “For girls it stops early marriage, it makes sexual exploitation less likely, and for boys it’s less likely that they get into exploitative work situations.”
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Like the girl Morley spoke of, about 74 per cent of the one million registered refugee children are 11-years-old or younger.

“It means that we have to try to do more because the risk of losing those years of schooling,” he said.

Communities, not camps

Children walk through the Domiz refugee camp in Iraq. According to UNHCR figures release Friday there are one million Syrian children registered as refugees. (Photo: Courtesy of UNHCR. Handout/Courtesy of UNICEF
A young Syrian boy carries water jugs in the Domiz refugee camp, in Iraq. (Photo: Courtesy of UNHCR). Handout/Courtesy of UNICEF
Dust blows through the Dormiz refugee camp in Iraq. (Photo: Courtesy of UNHCR). Handout/Courtesy of UNICEF
The Domiz refugee camp in Iraq hosts approximately 45,000 refugees. (Photo: Courtesy of UNHCR). Handout/Courtesy of UNICEF
A tarp shelter in the Domiz Refugee camp in Iraq. (Photo: Courtesy of UNHCR). Handout/Courtesy of UNICEF

According to UNHCR, 77 per cent of Syria refugees aren’t living in camps but in host communities.

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Morley said these areas tend often poor, rural communities and with an influx of people seeking safe haven in communities that aren’t necessarily equipped to handle them, aid winds up getting spread thinner.

Although there are one million Syrian children registered as refugees, UNICEF has actually vaccinated more than 1.3 million kids — primarily against measles.

“When we do vaccination campaigns in communities where we know there are [refugee] children we’ll often be vaccinating the poor people in those [host] countries,” he explained. “We’re not going to go and say ‘Here, you’re Syrian. Okay, you can be immunized against measles. Oh, you’re Turkish? Sorry. No luck.'”

More numbers on Syrian child refugees

3,500 – the number of children who have fled Syria without their parents

118,000 – how many children UNICEF has been able to provide education for

167,000 – children that have received psychological help

740,000 – approximate number of Syrian child refugees under the age of 11

$3 billion – how much the Syrian Regional Refugee Response has requested to “address the acute needs of refugees until December of this year.”

$5.2 billion – the amount the UN asked for from donor countries to deal with the humanitarian crisis inside and outside Syria AND the amount “Americans spend on ice cream in 32 days,” according to U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres in June of this year.

*With files from The Associated Press


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