UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell's remarks at the Brussels VI Conference: "Supporting the future of Syria and the region"
As prepared for delivery
BRUSSELS/NEW YORK, 10 May 2022 - " Excellencies, colleagues, and friends, thank you very much for inviting me here today.
"Syria today is one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a child.
"An entire generation is struggling to survive.
"Nearly 90 per cent of people in Syria live in poverty. More than 6.5 million children need urgent assistance – the greatest number of Syrian children in need since the conflict began.
"Eleven years of conflict and sanctions have had a devastating impact on Syria’s economy, setting development back 25 years. Most of the basic systems and services children depend on – health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education, and social protection – have been cut to the bone.
"Families are struggling to put food on the table. Between February and March this year, the price of the standard food basket jumped by nearly 24 per cent.
"Nearly one-third of all children are chronically malnourished. And the impact of the war in Ukraine on food prices is making a bad situation even worse.
"These are dangerous, even deadly, times to be a child in Syria.
"Attacks on civilian infrastructure have become commonplace. More than 600 medical facilities, among them maternal and children’s hospitals, have come under attack.
"Since the war began, we can verify that nearly 13,000 children have been killed or injured – but we know the toll is much higher.
"The war hasn’t only scarred Syria’s children physically. Last year, one-third of all children in Syria showed signs of psychological distress – invisible wounds that can last a lifetime.
"Children who have fled the war in Syria have also experienced trauma. Roughly 2.8 million Syrian children are now living in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, and Turkey.
"These children’s lives are riddled with loss, risk, and uncertainty. As one 11-year-old girl told a UNICEF staff member, “I don’t know what the word home means.”
"Eleven years of war, disruption, and displacement have also threatened the education of an entire generation. More than 3 million Syrian children are still out of school. But against all odds, approximately 4.5 million children from Syria have access to learning opportunities.
"This is thanks to generous funding from donors through initiatives like No Lost Generation, co-led by UNICEF. But it could not be happening without the continuous efforts of local communities, teachers, civil society, and international organisations.
"I would like to take a moment to acknowledge and commend the generosity and commitment that neighbouring countries – their governments and their people – continue to show.
"Many of these countries face their own challenges. Hosting so many children and their families is an additional strain, which makes their generosity even more remarkable.
"We know that other crises affecting children are dominating headlines. But the world must not forget Syria’s children.
"Their lives are just as precious – and their futures are just as important.
"First and foremost, they need an end to this long, fruitless war. There can be no military solution to this crisis. Only peace can prevent Syria’s children from truly becoming a lost generation.
"We also call for an immediate end to all grave violations against children in Syria, including the killing and injuring of children.
"Until a sustainable solution can be reached, UNICEF and our partners will continue to do everything we can to reach every child, wherever they are.
"The renewal of the Security Council Resolution permitting UN partners to deliver assistance to northern Syria is a critical milestone. We also need to scale up recovery all over Syria – restoring basic systems and services in every sector, to reach every child.
"That includes investing in and removing barriers to education. These children are the future of Syria. They need an education and skills to help rebuild their country when peace is restored.
"We cannot help the children of Syria without sustained flexible support. UNICEF currently requires US$312 million to respond in Syria and urgently requires an additional US$20 million to support our work in northwest Syria. To date, we have received less than half of what we require to respond to the needs of Syrian children.
"We are counting on you to provide that support. More important, Syria’s children are counting on all of us."
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