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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

In Syria, a glimpse into the everyday dangers faced by humanitarian workers

UNICEF commemorates World Humanitarian Day by recognizing all humanitarians who have lost their lives in the course of their work, and those who continue to serve.

© UNICEF Syria/2013/Iman Morooka
At an IDP shelter in Homs, Syria, a child is examined by a UNICEF-supported doctor who travels from shelter to shelter.

By Iman Morooka

DAMASCUS, Syrian Arab Republic, 17 May 2013 – As I was first arriving in Damascus from Beirut by road, the only accessible route for UN staff travelling into the conflict-torn Syrian capital, I saw a huge plume of black smoke rising in the distance. My colleague, the UNICEF driver who picked me up from Beirut, said it was coming from the direction of Daraya. The name immediately rang a bell, as it was frequently mentioned in the news as a scene of intense fighting.

The ferocious shelling that pounds areas around Damascus is what you hear throughout the day, every day. While people have learned to cope with this reality, the tragic fact is that with each one of them, children and people are killed, maimed or displaced.

Some of UNICEF’s Syrian staffers have been directly affected by the crisis. Some have themselves been displaced from their homes. Even going to work every day is not without its risks, with increased targeting of check-points and key locations within Damascus.

“You can’t make any plans in life, because you simply don’t know what is going to happen,” one colleague said. There is a general feeling that people’s lives are being put on hold.

© UNICEF Syria/2013/Iman Morooka
Damaged buildings in one of the neighbourhoods in Homs, Syria, just outside a medical clinic run by a UNICEF partner NGO.

Surrounded by violence

As the conflict intensifies and spreads, UNICEF staff on the ground and dedicated partners struggle every day to reach children and families and to deliver life-saving supplies and services.

During my three-month mission in support of the Syrian crisis response, I travelled to Homs several times. I noticed check points moving locations, indicating that the boundaries of control were shifting. Concrete walls were erected to block streets, and neighborhoods became more and more segregated. Heavy bombardment and fighting continues for control of the city’s neighborhoods, and many parts of the city are inaccessible.

Thinking of the children who have nowhere else to go, I cannot begin to imagine the level of fear and violence that they have to endure. In my encounters with displaced families in Homs and elsewhere, I came across stories of many children, and even adults, deeply traumatized by the violence they have witnessed.

Even in such conditions, I was also able to see the difference we’re making on the ground, and the progress made from month to month. Thanks to the scaling up of UNICEF programmes and strengthening of its field presence, more children are enrolled in education activities. We have also made progress in water and sanitation by providing access to services for IDPs, and large-scale infrastructure maintenance and repair of water systems. Child Friendly Spaces are reaching more children inside the country, among other areas of support.

© UNICEF Syria/2013/Iman Morooka
At a shelter for IDPs in Homs city, Syria, UNICEF-supported remedial classes provide children with an opportunity to receive education in a safe and child-friendly environment.

We work with partners who put their own lives at risk every day, many of whom work on a purely voluntary basis. They are constantly exposed to the threat of snipers, explosions and shelling.

If we don’t help, who else will?

We have also made some progress in delivering aid through cross-line operations to children and families in opposition-held areas, although it is difficult to know the exact number of people we have reached there, given the current challenges in monitoring and the fluid dividing lines between what is Government-controlled and what is opposition-controlled territory.

A Syrian colleague once said to me, “If we don’t support education, and if we don’t set up WASH facilities in IDP shelters, who else will?” While humanitarian assistance can’t fundamentally change the plight of Syrian children, the work that is being delivered by national and international humanitarian workers does indeed mean the difference between life and death to hundreds of thousands of children in Syria.



UNICEF Photography: City under siege

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