|© UNICEF Syria/2008/ Malla|
|UNICEF Regional Director Sigrid Kaag meets with a young girl at a child-friendly space for Iraqi refugees as part of her three-day visit to Damascas.|
DAMASCAS, Syrian Arab Republic, 25 February 2008 – After a recent three-day trip to Damascus, Sigrid Kaag, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), noted that Syria is on track to achieve major progress for children.
“The challenge now relates to addressing geographic disparities, strengthening the quality of education and addressing the needs of the 1 million Iraqi and Palestinian refugee children hosted by the country,” Ms. Kaag said.
During her three-day stay, Ms. Kaag visited UNICEF-supported programmes for Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian children. She signed agreements for $5.5 million to support health and education interventions for Iraqi refugee children and women.
The Regional Director also witnessed the signing of a plan to expand Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) psychosocial support to Iraqi refugee children. UNICEF is currently partnering with SARC to support five child-friendly spaces, which accommodate approximately 250 children every day.
Meeting with senior officials
Ms. Kaag met with First Lady of Syria Asma Akhras al-Assad, as well as other senior officials – including Minister of Education Ali Sa’ad; Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Faisal Mikdad; and Head of the State Planning Commission Tayssir Raddawi.
|© UNICEF Syria/2008/ Warde|
|UNICEF Regional Director Sigrid Kaag with the First Lady of Syria, Asma Akhras al-Assad.|
Ms. Kaag spoke with the Head of the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs, Sira Astor. The two discussed an innovative study on the situation of children.
At the State Planning Commission, Ms. Kaag discussed plans for opening a Joint UN office for low-coverage regions in the north and north-east.
Challenges for refugee youths
During her visit to the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, adolescents presented examples of key challenges facing young people, including drugs, and school drop-out rates. They also shared their plans to reach peers through life-skills training in schools.
Programmes supported by UNICEF in Syria provide genuine opportunities for adolescents to play a positive role in their own development as well as that of their communities. To date, some 3,500 Palestinian children have participated in activities at UNICEF-supported child-friendly centres.
UNICEF's MENA Regional Office supports adolescents as well as their parents and service providers, to help ensure that young people are healthy and equipped with the life-skills they need for the future. “Data collection, knowledge management and technical expertise ... on key issues pertaining to children’s well-being and rights will prove invaluable – and will help build the generation of the future, while meeting the needs of today,” said Ms. Kaag.