A refugee camp outside the Lebanese city of Arsal (Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)
"If we do not act quickly, a generation of innocents will become lasting casualties of an appalling war."
That's U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres speaking today at the release of a new report called The Future of Syria — Refugee Children in Crisis. The report details the effects of Syria's three-year-old war on the approximately 1.1 million refugee children spread across Jordan, Lebanon and other neighbouring countries.
"The conflict in Syria has caused Syrian girls and boys of all ages to suffer immensely, both physically and psychologically," the report says. "They have experienced first-hand conflict, destruction and violence. The psychological effects of such horrific experiences can be far-reaching, affecting their well-being, sleep, speech and social skills."
According to the report, the conflict is threatening to foster a generation of children growing up without formal education. Currently in Lebanon alone, there are an estimated 200,000 school-aged refugee children who aren't going to school, and in Jordan, there are another 100,000. Children as young as seven, the report says, are being sent out to work, sometimes in dangerous conditions, to help their families make ends meet. One survey of refugee households found that almost half relied on a child for at least a part of their income.
Here's a video produced by the UNHCR about a 12-year-old boy named Abdallah who works in the Za'atari refugee camp to help support his family:
A related problem is the recruitment of young boys to return to Syria and fight in the war. Although the report says there's a lack of concrete information on the problem, there's anecdotal evidence that boys under 18 are being trained to fight, or in some cases, work in non-fighting capacities like "distributing information."
Another area of concern, the report mentions, is the number of babies born in refugee camps with no documentation at all. Indeed, one survey found that as many as 77 per cent of the children born in Lebanese refugee camps did not have a birth certificate, leaving them at risk of becoming "stateless."
For more on the situation, see the full report, which includes first-person accounts from refugee children across the region.