Generation exodus: A million children flee Syrian conflict

Two UN agencies report that child refugees risk being trafficked and sexually exploited


On the surface, Aya seems like any other child; helping her mother with the cooking and playing with her friends. But she, like her friends, has had to flee the horrors of Syria’s war. She is one of over a million children who have now fled the conflict, the UN announced today.

The refugee agency the UNHCR has registered over two  million refugees since the conflict started. Half of those fleeing are children and 740,000 of these are under the age of 11, according to UNHCR, and the children’s agency, Unicef.

“What is at stake is nothing less than the survival and well-being of a generation of innocents,” Antonio Guterres, the UNHCR’s high commissioner, said in Geneva.

“The youth of Syria are losing their homes, their family members and their futures. Even after they have crossed a border to safety, they are traumatised, depressed and in need of a reason for hope.”

The physical upheaval, fear, stress and trauma experienced by so many children account for just part of the human crisis. Living in often desperate conditions, they are vulnerable to exploitation such as child labour. “We have lots of kids who work for very minimal wages,” says Ninette Kelley, UNHCR’s representative in Lebanon, where children selling flowers or begging in the streets have become a more common sight.

Children refugees are also at risk of being married off early and there is the potential for sexual exploitation and trafficking. Ms Kelley is seeing a rise in the occurrence of child marriages, often to foreigners, and calls the practice a “desperate survival technique”.

With resources stretched to breaking point, the UNHCR has had to cut back on its assistance. The Syria regional refugee response plan, which calls for £1.9bn to address the acute needs of refugees until December of this year, is currently only 38 per cent funded. “It’s the constant need of the increasing number with diminishing resources that keep us up at night,” Ms Kelley told The Independent. 

Funds for simple procedures such as cataract operations for babies have disappeared. “We don’t have the resources and that small child will be blind for life,” she says.

More than 3,500 children in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq have crossed Syria’s borders either unaccompanied or separated from their families. More than half of these are in Lebanon, where the UNHCR tries to find them a safe shelter, but the weak social structure – Lebanon has no foster care – makes this difficult says Ms Kelley. But even those fleeing with their family remain deeply traumatised. Some 167,000 refugee children have received psycho-social assistance, according to the UN.

New refugees face a double trauma according to Boris Vitlacil, the programme manager of the charity Terre des Hommes, which treats around 1,000 refugee children a month in the border town of Arsal, Recent arrivals have had a much heavier exposure to the war. “There are many more and they are much more seriously traumatised. They are afraid of airplanes; they talk all the time of killing and bombing, singing songs of war,” he sums up.

Children are also direct victims of the war. At least 7,000 children have died in the Syrian conflict, according to the UN.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine