Helping refugee children cope with a harsh winter

Children refugees in the MENA region, especially those in Syria and neighbouring countries, deserve urgent attention.
Sunday 02/12/2018
A displaced Syrian boy bites on a plastic bowl at the Ain Issa camp. (AFP)
A displaced Syrian boy bites on a plastic bowl at the Ain Issa camp. (AFP)

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has sounded the alarm over a funding deficit it warns will have tremendous consequences for more than 1 million children in the Middle East and North Africa. The children need that vital assistance as winter settles in.

The warning, issued by UNICEF Regional Director Geert Cappelaere, underlined the high risks facing children who have no permanent shelter.

“Years of conflict, displacement and unemployment have reduced families’ financial resources to almost nothing. Staying warm has simply become unaffordable,” Cappelaere said.

“With cold and rainy weather sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa, nearly 1 million children affected by crises in the region risk being left out in the cold,” he added.

The UN agency complains of a $33 million funding gap — two-thirds of its total budget — and fears it would be unable to carry out its mission. UNICEF normally helps 1.3 million refugee and displaced children in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt, providing them with warm clothes and the basic amenities of life, in winter.

However, the number of children affected by the precarious conditions created by displacement is much higher. UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, said there are more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees, including 2.6 million children displaced across the region as a result of the Syrian war, now in its eighth year.

Available figures show that the overwhelming majority of refugee families in the Middle East live in dire poverty. Between 68-85% of refugee families in Lebanon and Jordan live below the poverty level.

The predicament of Syria’s children is made more dire by the consequences of war. A recent UN report on children and armed conflict in Syria, for the period November 2013-June 2018, shows hundreds killed and maimed.

Virginia Gamba, the special representative of the UN secretary-general for children and armed conflict, said “the protection of children must be included in future peace negotiations and stabilisation efforts.”

In Lebanon, of the 1 million refugees registered with UNHCR, an estimated 250,000 Syrians live in tent camps across the country for the seventh year in a row.

Last year, at least 12 Syrians, including two children, froze to death during a storm in eastern Lebanon after crossing the border while fleeing Syria’s protracted civil war.

Children refugees in the MENA region, especially those in Syria and neighbouring countries, deserve urgent attention.

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