Press Conference with the UNICEF German National Committee: 10 years on the war on Syria
Remarks as delivered by Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa
10 March 20201 AMMAN/BERLIN/NEW YORK
Delivered by video conference/Zoom
Thank you very much,
Your Excellency Dr. Gerd Müller,
My dear friend Christian,
Distinguished colleagues from the press,
Thank you for attending what has, unfortunately, become our annual press conference on the war in Syria and the impact on children.
I would like first to thank you for your continued interest in covering the impact that this war has had on a whole generation of children.
Ten years, ten years, it’s a whole half-generation that has been affected by the conflict … That’s how long this war has been going on…. It’s beyond belief…. with a staggering impact, as the minister has said, on every single child from Syria.
When the war first started, I travelled to Syria with a group of Emergency Directors. We aimed at expanding humanitarian access in Syria, it was the first cross-line mission back then. But prior to 2011, Syria was a middle-income country with almost no humanitarian response. None of us at the time expected that this war would go on for ten long years.
Yet, here we are. The beautiful and diverse country that is Syria has been riddled by one of the most brutal wars in recent history. The toll that the fighting has had on millions of people including, most importantly, children, on the mosaic of the social fabric, on the economy, let alone on the infrastructure including basic services is tremendous.
Let me give you a few facts and some data that UNICEF has compiled:
- Nearly 90 per cent of Syrian children now depend on humanitarian assistance;
- There has been an increase in the price of the food basket of over 230 per cent last year. According to the latest estimates, more than half a million children under the age of five in Syria suffer from stunting as a result of chronic malnutrition.
- Nearly 3.2 million children- more than half of Syria’s school-aged children - are out of school, including 40 per cent of girls;
- According to verified data, over the last ten years, between 2011 and 2020:
- Almost 12,000 children were killed and directly verified through UN channels; as a direct result of conflict
- More than 5,700 children – some as young as seven years old of age – were recruited into the fighting, nearly all of them served in combat roles;
- More than 1,300 education and medical facilities and personnel came under attack.
- The war is leaving a profound impact on children’s mental health, with both short and long-term implications. The reported numbers of children displaying symptoms of psychosocial distress doubled in 2020; along with the triple pressures of the conflict, economy and COVID-19.
And then we have specific situations;
- In the Al-Hol Camp and across the northeast of Syria, where there are nearly 27,500 children from at least 60 nationalities and thousands of Syrian children associated with armed groups who languish in camps and detention centres.
- The number of refugee children in neighbouring countries has increased more than ten-fold to 2.5 million since 2012. Syria’s neighbouring countries, the ones’ mentioned; Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey. have borne the brunt. These countries host 83 per cent of the total number of Syrian refugees around the world, putting strain on countries that are already fragile.
- The generosity and the “open-door” that people and governments in neighbouring countries have shown, which is frankly exemplary, as they themselves are facing their own challenges. And I think here specifically of Lebanon.
Ladies and gentlemen, Syrian children are facing incredible challenges, and yet we are seeing that they are showing courage, perseverance and resolve. Their determination to learn, to overcome the odds and build a better future is admirable.
I’ve visited Syria many times, most recently this December to Northeast Syria and I saw this resilience. It was mothers telling us early on that the most important thing is to get children education no matter where they were and regardless of who controlled the territory that they live in. It’s through children like 18-year-old Saja who never give up, despite losing a leg, she continues to work out and play football and be a sports teacher! As she said, such a beautiful phrase; “Life doesn’t rely on one moment alone”
It’s girls and boys like Saja who give us the hope that Syria is far from the doom and gloom of this war. They remind us that we should not think twice when it comes to supporting Syria’s children wherever they are: inside Syria, in the neighbouring countries and beyond.
And I’m very proud that with the help of Germany and other partners, UNICEF has been leading on one of the largest humanitarian operations in our history in response to the crisis in Syria.
We had to act and had to act fast. We expanded our presence, we mobilized.
Let me share with you some of the results in the last year in Syria and the neighbouring countries with this work that UNICEF backed;
- Nearly 900,000 children received routine immunization or vaccination against measles;
- Over 400,000 children were reached with psychosocial support;
- Over 3.7 million children had access to formal and non-formal education and
- Over 5.4 million people had access to safe water through improvements to water supply systems.
All of this was with the help of UNICEF support and the support of the German government and people.
- And specifically, In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we reached 55 million people with awareness-raising material and health measures and distributed personal protection equipment to front line workers including masks, robes and face shields.
I can’t thank the German people and the German Government sufficiently for being generous to Syria’s children. In the case of UNICEF, we received US$ 1.3 billion in support and Germany has been one of the largest contributors to this response over the past 10 years.
It is only thanks to this generosity that UNICEF was able to reach millions of children inside Syria and in neighbouring countries.
Without this support, as the minister has said, the situation of children could have been much, much worse.
Before I close, let me say a few points that represent asks that we have, to those fighting on the ground, to those who have influence over them and to the wider international community:
1) It is time to bring peace to Syria. There are no winners in this war and sadly the biggest loss is brought upon Syria’s children. Peace and diplomacy are the only way out of this abyss.
2) Parties to the conflict must refrain from attacks on children or basic services that cater for them including schools, hospitals, clinics and water points. And while the fighting has been evaded, we still see concerns specifically in the northwest of Syria.
3) Children associated with armed groups specifically those in the northeast of Syria need to be either reintegrated in local communities or if they’re foreign nationals to be repatriated safely back to their countries of origin. Children in Al-Hol don’t belong in those camps, they belong in their communities and families.
4) Until peace comes back to Syria, it is critical that organisations like UNICEF continue to get the support and funding they need to deliver assistance to children. UNICEF is appealing for US$1.4 billion for our work inside Syria and neighbouring countries for 2021. This is part of the US$9.8 billion that minister Müller referred to that the UN is appealing for. And specifically, we need support for northwest Syria to continue the operation. We also need UN Security Council Resolution that allows for cross border assistance to continue delivering assistance to people in northwest Syria.
5) and finally, our last ask is not to give up on Syria’s children and don’t give up on their resilience. We need to invest in social services as we have, because it’s a sustainable way under what is known as humanitarian infrastructure and focus on resilience, focus on basic services that allow children to continue to have hope.
We can make a difference; we have made a difference. The support that we’ve received from Germany has been an essential part of this solution.
Thanks to you all.
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