Briefing note on the situation of children in Afrin and Eastern Ghouta, Syria
GENEVA, 16 March 2018 - This is a summary of what was said by Marixie Mercado, UNICEF spokesperson in Geneva – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
- Families continue to come out of East Ghouta, with thousands arriving in Harjeleh shelter around 5am this morning. At the moment, evacuees are being taken to four collective shelters.
- The total number of people who have exited eastern Ghouta is not known. The United Nations did not observe the evacuations, but is visiting shelters where some of the evacuees are arriving. UNICEF is already providing support in three of the shelters and will have reached the fourth later today – emergency supplies include water, diapers, and cleaning kits.
- An estimated 147 civilians (including eight medical cases) were evacuated on 13 March, as observed by a United Nations team, to Dweir collective shelter in Rural Damascus. There were 78 children among the evacuees.
- A United Nations interagency mission including UNICEF Protection and Nutrition staff visited the collective shelter that received evacuees.
- The evacuees at the shelter had no luggage with them, not even plastic bags to hold belongings.
- One child told our team that they had been living in the basement, but had moved back up to their house despite the danger because the smell in the basement had become unbearable.
- Children showed clear signs of malnutrition. Most of the very young children were also Vitamin D deficient and cannot walk properly. Many showed signs of micronutrient deficiencies; very dry and cracked skin, fatigue, lesions on the edges of the mouth. Many children were in need of scabies and lice medication. Women also showed signs of anemia and malnutrition.
- Our team talked with three unaccompanied children. Two were outside their house during the evacuation and were told they had to come along. A third boy joined them. One of the boys had a recent bullet injury on his upper arm. All three were provided with food and medical care. An aid worker at the shelter recognized two of the boys as distant relatives and they staying in his care while ICRC’s legal team provides tracing assistance as their families are still inside East Ghouta. UNICEF’s child protection team is following up.
- UNICEF has been providing emergency assistance since the evacuations started on 11 March .
- At Dweir centre, with the local Department of Health, women and children are being checked and screened for malnutrition and provided with supplies including high energy biscuits, plumpy paste, and micronutrients. Young children who have missed out on immunization are vaccinated against polio and other diseases. A mobile health team has been deployed.
- 5,000 brochures with information on preventing children from being separated from parents – including children’s plastic bracelets with tags for parents to write their names and contact information – have been dispatched to the reception centre.
- Winter clothes being are being distributed to children below 14 years old.
- UNICEF is also working with partners to set up a child protection unit and increase health staff capacity.
- A UNICEF nutritionist was on the convoy that delivered food assistance for about 26,100 people in Douma, in East Ghouta, yesterday.
- She was only able to go to one health centre because of the security situation. As she walked there, she saw children and families coming out from basements under destroyed buildings. At the health centre, she screened 12 children – 7 were severely acutely malnourished, and 1 was moderately acutely malnourished.
- Healthworkers in Douma told her that giving therapeutic food to children with severe acute malnutrition was extremely difficult in the crowded shelters – all the children wanted it, because it was the only food available. This means the children with severe acute malnutrition are not getting enough of the therapeutic food to recover.
- She was told that an egg costs $4 and a pack of bread $4. Fresh produce is extremely expensive.
- The children showed symptoms of vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies; their skin is dry and cracked and they have lesions on the edge of their mouths.
- One mother she talked to said the basement where they are staying has only one toilet for around 200 people.
- Reports from inside Afrin indicate that dozens of children have been killed and many more injured since the start of hostilities in the district.
- For the last 10 days, children and families have suffered severe water shortages as the source of water for Afrin city has reportedly been cut off. Families are relying on untreated water and boreholes, potentially increasing the risk of waterborne diseases for about 250,000 people.
- According to local sources most health facilities are shut down and classes are said to be suspended as well.
- Civilians are reportedly being stopped from trying to flee the district and most of the displaced people from rural areas are moving towards Afrin city. There is no official displacement tracking mechanism but local sources estimate around 50,000 displaced people in the city. Families are being hosted by relatives and friends, in shops, government buildings and schools.
- Over 7,000 people have, however, reached surrounding villages and Aleppo city. UNICEF teams who have visited these locations report that people are staying in mosques and sometimes on the street with very limited humanitarian assistance. Health facilities in these locations are overwhelmed and there is an immediate need to provide assistance on water and sanitation.
- With the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, UNICEF started trucking water on March 11 to the most congested and vulnerable neighbourhoods hosting IDPs in Afrin city. The plan is to truck 500,000 litres of water every day for up to 35,000 people, but was interrupted on 15 March due to an escalation in attacks on Afrin city.
- In the last convoy to Afrin on 1 March by the ICRC / SARC, we delivered health and nutrition supplies to meet the needs of about 40,000 people, along with vaccines and related supplies sufficient for two months. The February polio campaign only reached 30 per cent of the targeted number of children because of insecurity in some sub-districts, but supplies are in place for the March round.
- Among IDPs who have fled Afrin, we have reached over 1,000 children and pregnant or breastfeeding women with nutrition support including supplements, high energy biscuits and fortified spreads.
- One of our two child friendly spaces is closed due to the insecurity, but we have increased the number of staff in mobile teams, and have reached around 2,500 children inside Afrin with psychosocial support and mine-risk education. We are also reaching children and families who have fled Afrin with similar support, as well as case management.
- UNICEF has additional supplies in place to meet the immediate needs of 30,000 children, and the longer-term needs – including clothing and emergency education supplies – for 100,000. We repeat, once again, our call on all parties to allow us to safely deliver this life-saving aid.
Notes for editors:
Photos and b-roll are available for download here: https://weshare.unicef.org/Package/2AM4080EBUGC