At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

Children cannot afford to face another year of Syrian conflict, says Executive Director on visit with displaced families in Homs

© UNICEF VIDEO
At a shelter for displaced families in Homs, Syrian Arab Republic, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake emphasizes the importance of recreation and education for children suffering from three years of conflict.

 

By Kumar Tiku

HOMS, Syrian Arab Republic, 14 March 2014 – The cacophony of children’s shouts and laughter echoes around the shelter for displaced children and families in the Syrian city of Homs, where they are participating in two hours of recreational activities.

These activities provide an opportunity for the children to forget the wounds in their hearts, from the Syrian conflict, for a moment in time. The rest of the time, these children contemplate a grim future in a city with some of the most inhospitable conditions imaginable.

Things no child should ever see

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, who visited the shelter this morning, came away moved by the traumatic events that the conflict in Homs has inflicted on the children. “So many of them have been traumatized by seeing things no child should ever see,” he said. “These children cannot afford to face another year of this conflict.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
Homs, Syrian Arab Republic: A Syrian girl holds a love letter she has written to her mother, as part of recreational activities held at the shelter for displaced families where she lives.

Mr. Lake spent time listening to the accounts of children of a family who were evacuated from the Old City of Homs in February. The family includes Hussan*, 35, and his four girls.  Hussan’s wife and son died as the result of an explosion in the Old City.

Hussan’s 9-year-old daughter told Mr. Lake that she had kept a diary – in the form of drawings and writings – of her days spent under siege. “I just gave away this diary, as I do not want to remind myself of those dark memories,” she said, visibly sad.

One Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) volunteer at the shelter told Mr. Lake, “While children all across Syria have suffered heavily during the last three years, none have had to face such acute violence and suffering as the children in Homs.

“Please do not forget us,” she said.

A brief return to childhood

The shelter – once a school, like thousands of other such shelters around the country – is located at the edge of the Old City. It is in the middle of a heavily shelled neighbourhood, surrounded by derelict, desolate and damaged or destroyed buildings.

Each morning, a group of aid volunteers from SARC lay out a variety of outdoor activities designed to help these vulnerable children return to normalcy. Activities include face painting, drawing, crafts and ball and parachute games.

Some of the children are too young to register the tragedy of their displacement, while, for others, the experience is etched in their minds.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/NYHQ2014-0292/Sanadiki
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake visits a recreational activities session for children in a shelter for displaced families in Homs. He is accompanied by UNICEF staff, including UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Maria Calivis (crouching, at centre) and UNICEF Representative in the Syrian Arab Republic Youssouf Abdel-Jelil (beside him at right), and by volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

An uncertain future

The siege in the Old City of Homs that was lifted briefly in February lasted for more 18 months. The area witnessed shelling over an extended period, as well as a severe lack of food and medical supplies. Hussan’s family spoke of inhumane living conditions in the Old City and expressed uncertainty about the future that awaits them.

Mr. Lake visited families in another Homs neighbourhood, which is home to some 200,000 displaced people. He visited another school that is now a shelter housing, among others, some of the families recently evacuated from the Old City.

The families spoke of the deprivations and violence that they faced inside the Old City and their current struggles as evacuees, without jobs and without valid official documents needed to survive.

“The wounds of this war are growing faster than our capacity to deal with them,” said Mr. Lake.

“We are doing our best to help children through working with partners like SARC.”

*Name has been changed.


 

 

UNICEF Photography: Syrian crisis

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