SYRIAN REFUGEE UPDATE — November 13, 2013

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Pre-school children attending a UNICEF-supported educational protection center in Homs. © UNICEF/2013
Pre-school children attend a UNICEF-supported educational protection center in Homs. Photo credit: © UNICEF/2013

Every other Wednesday, I’ll share with you some of what we know about the Syrian conflict and refugee crisis. Today, after a brief news update, I’m honored to share with you expertise from Rachel Steinberg of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund). Please feel free to contact LIRS or Rachel with any questions in regards to UNICEF’s work in Syria.

One thousand tons of chemical weapons have been identified in Syria by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Although it’s a relief that the weapons are quarantined, international actors must now decide how to best destroy the weapons. The process is costly, time-consuming, and leftover weapon waste is hazardous. For advice and as a place to destroy the weapons, some leaders are looking to Albania. In 2007, Albania destroyed their own weapons, and still has the capacity to destroy weapons today.

On the refugee crisis front, Rachel Steinberg informs us of UNICEF’s efforts to protect and provide for Syrian children. She writes:

As the crisis in Syria continues through a third year, the risk of losing a generation of Syrian children grows. Children face dangers from violence daily, often do not have access to adequate health care or clean water and sanitation, are missing out on education, and suffer from psychological trauma – all as a bitterly cold winter approaches.

UNICEF estimates that more than 4 million Syrian children have been affected by the ongoing conflict. There are approximately 3.1 million children living in dire situations in Syria including poverty, displacement, and being caught in the line of fire. There are approximately 1.1 million Syrian children living as refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, and countries in North Africa.

UNICEF is taking a multi-pronged approach to champion the children of Syria to ensure that they have access to protection, education, healthcare, and water and sanitation.

Child Protection: UNICEF has been working to help Syrian children regain a sense of security, to give them opportunities to express themselves, and to help them develop constructive ways to cope with the conflict. UNICEF is setting up child-friendly spaces where children can play and engage in recreational activities. The organization is also training teachers and school counselors to provide support and refer children in need to more specialized care. In 2013, nearly 470,000 Syrian children have received emotional support in more than 220 child-friendly spaces, as well as in alternative learning environments like school clubs. The numbers include 250,000 children in Syria, 128,000 in Lebanon, 80,000 in Jordan, 5,500 in Iraq, and 5,000 in Turkey.

Education: More than 3,000 schools in Syria have been damaged or destroyed since the conflict began and another 900 have been turned into shelters. Since last fall, 1.9 million children have dropped out of school—nearly 40% of all registered students in grades 1-9. UNICEF is delivering pre-fabricated classrooms (70 have already been built), distributing school supplies for up to a million children, and with its partners, launching a home-based program so that children in the most dangerous conflict zones can still learn. Additionally, UNICEF is helping the more than 1 million children who have fled as refugees by providing schoolbooks, teacher training and teaching materials, including kits to set up temporary schools.

Health: Syria’s immunization rates have plummeted from more than 90% before the conflict to currently 68%. UNICEF is working with WHO, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other partners so that millions of children can receive vaccines against polio, measles, mumps and rubella. When polio broke out in a region that has not seen the disease for nearly a decade, UNICEF mobilized quickly to prevent its spread, including vaccinating 116,000 in the highly-contested north-east Deir-ez-Zor where the polio outbreak was confirmed, and UNICEF will take part in a sustained effort of intense immunization activity in the coming months.

Water and Sanitation: This year, UNICEF has provided safe, clean water to 10 million people—nearly half the population. In February, UNICEF led the first nationwide assessment of Syria’s water and sanitation infrastructure since the fighting began, thus guiding UNICEF’s efforts through methods including water trucking, chlorination, repairs to water systems, construction of sanitation facilities, hygiene awareness, and waste management.

How you can get involved: UNICEF is working tirelessly to address children’s needs, including providing vaccinations, school supplies and psycho-social support. UNICEF’s funding needs are $90 million for children in Syria and the surrounding area. UNICEF is funded entirely by voluntary contributions. Please donate to help UNICEF continue this life-saving work and ensure that we do not lose an entire generation.

Further, Syrian children will suffer through another cold winter, and UNICEF is raising funds to provide them with warm winter clothing. UNICEF is aiming to provide 100,000 warm winter clothing kits containing thermal underwear, outerwear, socks, mittens and winter boots for Syrian children across the region. $45 can provide one kit; $450 can keep 10 children warm. Click here to learn more and to donate.

Please visit http://childrenofsyria.info/ to learn more, join the conversation, and raise awareness to champion the #childrenofsyria. For further inquiries about partnership and funding opportunities, please contact Rachel Steinberg (Manager, Civil Society Partnerships) at rsteinberg@unicefusa.org.

About: The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to save and improve children’s lives, providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF’s work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when zero children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood.

We’re grateful for the efforts of humanitarian workers like Rachel Steinberg, and we hope that the suffering in Syria can be relieved. You can check back here the Wednesday after next to learn the latest about Syria’s refugee crisis and steps you can take that will make a difference.

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