UNICEF: Greater catastrophe threatens Syrian children

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The Unicef has warned that the crisis in Syria, which has left 5.5 million children in need of urgent educational and psychological support, will become an even greater humanitarian catastrophe if the international community does not come up with three years’ guaranteed funding.

Last month, the UN children’s agency said the number of children affected by the conflict had doubled over the past year, raising the prospect of a “lost generation” of Syrians who will be denied the education and opportunities needed to help them rebuild the country.

Maria Calivis, Unicef regional director for the Middle East and north Africa, said that although many countries had responded generously to the crisis with emergency funds, guaranteed money was vital.

“We’re calling for three years’ predictable funding, because education is an investment that you can’t do with funding on just a six-month basis,” she said. “We need sustained funding, we need to find cost-effective solutions and we need to make sure that all our interventions help to build resilience in families and communities – because this is what will last and this is what will help the recovery. If we don’t, it will be a much bigger humanitarian catastrophe than it is now.”

Calivis, Unicef’s lead on the Syrian crisis, said the war was having an increasingly devastating effect on the country’s children, 3 million of whom are internally displaced and 1.2 million of whom have become refugees.

“Because it’s now lasted three years, you see among the refugees that have come across, that [the situation] is not what used to be even just a year ago, when in a group of maybe 25 children, 10 needed psycho-social support,” she said. “Now, 25 of the 25 children will need psycho-social support. That is an indication of how deeply it has affected children.”

As well as losing their relatives, homes and chances of a proper education, Calivis said, they also face the resurgent threat of polio 14 years after the last recorded case in Syria.

She said that although Unicef was doing all it could to protect Syrian children and to help them continue their education, it was a difficult task: some have taken to begging or working in fields or factories to help supplement their families’ income, and many girls are getting married earlier without finishing their schooling.

Though Unicef applauds the decision by Jordan and Lebanon to allow some Syrian refugee children into their public schools, it recognizes that the move has caused overcrowding, put teachers under enormous pressure and led to resentment and bullying of the newcomers.

According to Calivis, Lebanon, whose public school system serves 300,000 of its own children, is now home to 300,000 Syrian children in need of education. Although it has accommodated 40,000 of them, the overwhelming majority have nowhere to go.

Syria sank into war in March 2011 when pro-reform protests turned into a massive insurgency following the intervention of Western and regional states.

The unrest, which took in terrorist groups from across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, has transpired as one of the bloodiest conflicts in recent history.

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