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Children Made Refugees by the Syrian War at Risk of Becoming ‘Lost Generation’

August 23, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
One million Syrian children have been ripped from the daily life they know and forced them into refugee camps. Margaret Warner speaks with Sarah Crowe of UNICEF for more on the impact of the war on the youngest Syrians and the burden the crisis has placed on the surrounding region.

TRANSCRIPT

MARGARET WARNER: And for more on the impact of the Syria conflict on the millions forced to flee, particularly the children, I’m joined by UNICEF spokesperson Sarah Crowe. She’s been to the Syrian refugee camps, as well as other UNICEF-supported camps around the world.

Sarah Crowe, thank you for joining us.

One million kids, Syrian kids now refugees, put that in context for us. What percentage of Syrian children have been driven from their homes?

SARAH CROWE, UNICEF: Well, it’s a staggering number.

Just imagine a city like Boston or Washington or Los Angeles without children, without its childhood population. Not only is this robbing Syria of a new generation. It’s also becoming a burden, as you have heard in those pieces earlier, for the neighboring countries. It’s engulfing — this crisis is now engulfing an entire region.

But this is not just about numbers. Each one of those children represent a child with dreams, a child who had an education, and is now facing a life, for at least a short term, a short-term existence, without schooling. What we have in many of the refugee areas and in Jordan, for instance, in Zaatari camp, and in the host communities, is we’re providing temporary schooling.

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But it’s not enough. There are thousands of other children who are just simply falling between the cracks. And many of the older children, it’s much harder for them. All the boys are full of resentment and anger and aggressive. They want to go back and fight in many cases or, indeed, they’re being recruited.

And many of the teenaged girls face early marriage, as their families are now facing a life in poverty. They’re now in a refugee camp. That’s no life for any child. And they have seen things that no child should ever have to witness.

MARGARET WARNER: Is there something particular or unusual — I mean, war is always dreadful for children. Is there something unusual about the impact the Syria conflict has had on Syrian children, maybe the comparison of their life before, for example?

SARAH CROWE: Well, what struck me in what you heard earlier in the clip that you played is that they’re extremely articulate children and also very well-educated.

Syria had about 85 percent of its primary school children were in a school, and now, if you look at one town like Aleppo in Syria, only 6 percent of those children are now in school. So this gives you — this gives you a comparative feeling of what it was like then and what it is like now.

And the longer this conflict goes on, the greater the chance of a lost generation. These children are losing out in so many levels, so many areas. What we’re able to do is give basic — basic needs are met, immunization campaigns, vaccination. Water and sanitation is trucked into these camps.

And, of course, the host communities themselves need to be supported, and those children in those host communities are also vulnerable. So we need to look at immunizing those children, which we do together with the host governments and the host communities.

MARGARET WARNER: What impact does this have over long term? I mean, some of these children — I have been to some of these camps — have been there a couple of years already. What is the impact on their health, and not just physical, but also psychological, that will linger during these formative years?

SARAH CROWE: Well, the greatest wounds, of course, are the ones that you can’t see, and that scar them in many ways for life.

When they talk about what they have seen and when they draw pictures of what they have seen, you can see that there’s a sense of bleakness in their eyes, in the way they express it. One of our child protection officers in Jordan said to me that it’s like they have lost their sense of humanity, their sense that — it’s as if they have to have their souls sewn back on again.

And this is something that is invisible, and the scars are invisible but will and could remain with them for a lifetime, especially if this goes on for too long. So it’s a global shame. It’s — we’re all — we all should hang our heads in shame that this crisis has gone on now, now into its third year, and the biggest humanitarian crisis we have had to deal with.

 

MARGARET WARNER: What do these children do all day in the camps? I mean, having seen some of them, some of these mothers have nine and 10 children, and there’s no man there. What do the children do all day?

SARAH CROWE: Well, exactly.

You’re seeing a disproportionate number of children and mothers and women, in the camps particularly, but also in host communities. Where there’s good help and where there’s help to be found, we’re very actively pursuing, and we have temporary schooling, and indeed now much more structured schooling in the established camps, like in Zaatari camp in Jordan.

And that gives them a real sense of routine, a sense of something familiar that they know, that they understand. They go to these schools, some schools in tents, but many are now in prefab classrooms, where they’re able to get shelter from the very arid, hot, dry summer, and indeed, in the winter, which we’re now approaching, a very cool, cold winter. At nighttime, it gets bitterly cold in that area.

So they’re getting — they’re getting regular — for the lucky ones, they are getting regular schooling. And the good news is, when you find teachers in the community, particularly in Jordan, that has a much more similar curriculum, and, of course, amongst the refugee population, there are also Syrian teachers.

So there are double shifts. There are shifts in the morning and shifts in the afternoon. So that’s what happens when it works well.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, let me ask you this. In June, the U.N. announced that there was a $3 billion shortfall in money for Syrian aid between what had been pledged by various countries, the U.S., the Gulf, the Europeans, and what the U.N. felt it would need until the end of the year.

Are you seeing that shortfall translated on the ground? In other words, is there a limit to what sort of food and medicine and schooling you can provide?

SARAH CROWE: There’s absolutely a limit.

This is bigger than any one aid organization can cope with, any one government. This is a crisis for an entire region. Our funding — our funding needs have only been 40 percent met, and so this is — this is another — another shame. What is needed, of course, is a political solution. We can’t keep — we can’t keep up with the demands if the flow from Syria continues.

UNICEF is inside Syria, and, as you said earlier, we have — we’re dealing with two million children inside Syria who are displaced. So you have got a crisis inside and a crisis outside. And this is — this is now becoming — this is now going beyond the — beyond the bounds of any one agency.

MARGARET WARNER: Wells, Sarah Crowe of UNICEF, thank you so much.  

SARAH CROWE: Thank you.