Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

For the Sake of Syria’s Children | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Syrian refugee children peer from a tent supplied by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in al-Marj, in the eastern Lebanese Bekaa Valley. (AFP)

There are many victims of the crisis in Syria, yet it is the children who are suffering the most. Their stories of suffering are the most painful, and the impact of war is hardest on them. The effects will last for many years to come, even after the bullets stop and the mortars are silent.

Reports, testimonies and footage from people inside Syria—as well as from refugees in camps and the many displaced citizens—paint an appalling picture. It is one of suffering children who have lost their innocence after having found themselves on the frontline of a war that they had no part in.

In commemoration of the second anniversary of the conflict, Save The Children has published a report entitled Children Under Fire. In it, a nine-year-old boy named Ibrahim told his story, saying, “I long for the days when my mother took me to the playground. But my mother died, along with my brothers, when our house was bombed. Nadim was my brother and my best friend, and I wish I could play with him one more time, and that we could go to school together again. I only wish they all were alive. When I return to Syria, I want to visit their graves and tell them: I miss you all.”

In another testimony, Nour, an eight-year-old girl, says that her only memories from Syria are those of bombings and daily fear. She adds, “There is nothing good; I have no good memories. I remember how my [paternal] uncle and my grandmother were killed, because I was there. What do I remember from Syria? Nothing but blood.”

There are hundreds of thousands of children with testimonies and stories like those of Ibrahim and Nour. International reports indicate that as many as three million buildings have been destroyed during the war, and that one in seven citizens have been forced to flee the country. More than a million people now live as refugees; most of them are in camps in neighboring countries. According to the estimates of international relief organizations, over two million children in Syria are in urgent need of food and medical supplies. That is in addition to the nearly half a million children living in difficult circumstances with their relatives in camps along the border.

However, with three in four children having lost a family member to the war, the physical deprivation of homelessness and hunger are not the only symptoms of the crisis in Syria, which has so far claimed 70,000 lives. Some estimate put the human cost of the war closer to 100,000 dead—many of them children, although there is a lack of accurate statistics regarding numbers and ages. In wars such as these, in which targets are confused and shells fall randomly on innocent people, many die without ever being formally acknowledged, and are merely considered missing.

It is certain that numerous children have been killed or injured, and that over two and a half million people have been displaced, losing all sense of safety in their towns and cities and opting instead for a life of difficulty in refugee camps, caves and sometimes the open air. As if all this were not enough, humanitarian organizations have reported that children are sometimes used as informants and even as human shields during combat, putting their lives in immediate danger.

Tragically, nearly every Syrian child has been affected by the war. They will suffer psychologically for many years to come, even after the fighting ends. Wars always leave a lost generation who have suffered fear and terror under bombardment, or who have witnessed death and killing. They have been deprived of all normality and robbed of their education. Indeed, according to some estimates, around a fifth of all Syrian schools have either been destroyed, unable to hold classes because the teachers have emigrated, or have been turned into shelters for those fleeing the combat zones.

The result is that a full generation of Syria’s children will grow up suffering the impact of war and violence, whether physically, psychologically, or as a result of a lack of education and health care. This generation will also suffer from hard living conditions in the years when the country will be rebuilding what has been destroyed by the war, assuming that the country does not descend into another war.

Researchers and staff working with relief organizations have published drawings by Syrian children that reveal the true ugliness of war and its impact on these children. Many of them did not draw trees, animals or dolls, but instead depicted scenes of violence and death: tanks, machine guns and corpses.

These Syrian children will be haunted by such images, and many of them will carry deep psychological wounds for the rest of their lives.

The UNICEF organization, for example, reported that it has offered psychological aid to over 17,000 children among the Syrian refugees in Lebanon alone, with a view to helping them overcome the enormous impact of the war. This is particularly necessary if their family members, friends or other children their age were among the victims.

The picture will remain bleak as long as there are no solid indications that the war will end soon. The regime is continuing its violence, and is indifferent to all that prevents it from retaining autonomy. It will cling to power even if that involves exterminating half of Syria. As for the opposition, they are drowning in their own disagreements and their varying agendas, which are kept quiet until they are behind closed doors, away from cameras and microphones.

In this situation, it is not strange to see Syria turning from battlefields to proxy wars. The international community is divided between the regime’s opponents and its supporters, the latter of whom have been funding and arming the Assad government. The regime’s opponents are likewise divided. There are those who want to see the regime ousted, but at the same time do not want support to go to radical groups, and others who object to interference for various reasons that, of course, do not include concern for the Syrian people.

In the midst of such an uncertain future, the Syrian people continue to suffer. The voices of Ibrahim and Nour have been lost, together with the voices of millions of other Syrian children. It is for their sake that the war must come to an end, one way or another.