UNICEF’s Executive Director Henrietta Fore said hat Syrian children went through immense suffering in their early years and were at risk of death due to military operations and siege the Assad regime and its allies laid on various cities and towns.
“Every eight-year-old in Syria has been growing up amidst danger, destruction and death,” Henrietta said at the end of a five-day visit to the conflict-ravaged country on Friday. “These children need to be able to return to school, receive their vaccinations, and feel safe and protected. We need to be able to help them.”
Fore was able to visit some of the newly accessible areas in Syria following a five-year siege by the Assad regime forces, such as the Damascus suburb of Douma. She saw how the conflict has affected families, children and the communities in which they live.
In Douma, for example, displaced families are beginning to return to their homes, but the threat of unexploded ordnance is pervasive, Fore said. Douma was subjected to five-year-long siege before the Assad regime launched a major offensive to recapture the district in early 2018, using internationally prohibited weapons in the shelling of the area.
Such is the level of destruction in Douma that a non-governmental organization, with UNICEF support, set up an informal clinic in the hall of a damaged mosque.
On the last day of the trip, Fore visited Dara’a province, home to nearly one million people. She said that displacement levels in the province are high, putting additional strain on limited services. Half of the province’s 100 primary health care centers have been damaged or destroyed as a result of the relentless bombardment by the Assad regime and its allies.
UNICEF said that of nearly 1,000 schools in the province, at least half require repair. Classrooms are overcrowded. For children who have missed years of learning due to the war, first-grade students can vary in age from 6 to 17 years of age. Many students are dropping out of school – the drop-out rate across Syria is at 29 per cent, the agency said.
Throughout Syria, UNICEF calls for the protection of children at all times and for a stronger emphasis on re-stitching the social fabric ripped apart by years of fighting.
“Almost eight years since the conflict started, the needs are still great,” Fore said. “But the millions of children born during this war and growing up amidst the violence are ready: they want to learn. They want to play. They want to heal.” (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department)