Report advises generation faces psychological wrecking, with most vulnerable the hardest hit
A generation of Syrian children face psychological ruin and ever increasing peril, with child deaths rising by 50% last year and the number of young soldiers tripling since 2015.
A report by Unicef saw 2017 was the worst year of the war for young Syrians, with 910 killed in a conflict that has spared them no mercy and has taken a vastly disproportionate toll on the country’s most vulnerable people.
The figures undermine claims that the war, which will soon enter its eighth year, is losing steam. Those most at risk face escalating menaces of being permanently maimed by opposing, or emotionally scarred by a litany of abuses including forced labor, matrimonies, food scarcity and minimal access to health or education.
” There are scars in children and there are scars on children that will never be erased ,” said Geert Cappelaere, Unicef’s director for the Middle East and north Africa.” The protection of children in all circumstances that was once universally embraced- at no moment have any of the parties accepted .”
More than 13 million people inside Syria need humanitarian assistance, more than half of whom are children, the UN says. Of the 6.1 million internally displaced, roughly half( 2.8 million) are children. Figures for last year depict an average of 6,550 people were displaced each day in Syria.
During the first months of 2018 there has been a sharp escalation in violence in Idlib, eastern Ghouta on the suburbs of Damascus and in Afrin on the Turkish perimeter. The Syrian regime and Russia have been besieging Idlib and east Ghouta, while Turkey and a proxy Arab force launched an offensive against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in January. There also remains a lethal threat from mines and unexploded bombs left over from opposing in Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor.
In eastern Ghouta a besieged population of nearly 420,000 people, half of whom are children, are suffering a month of airstrikes from Russian and Syrian jets, which are attempting to oust opponent fighters and the communities that support them from Damascus’s doorstep. Calculated death tolls in Ghouta range from 1,000 to 1,300 people. Children are thought to account for at least several hundred casualties.
Reaching children in need has been relentlessly difficult, the UN has said, with requests to deliver aid to opponent communities routinely denied and convoys allowed to enter often stripped of essential medicines. Humanitarian access was denied 105 times in 2017 alone- a year marked by sieges of east Aleppo and east Ghouta, which had both been strongholds of the anti-Assad opposition throughout the war.
Healthcare facilities, including hospitals and ambulance basis, have been repeatedly targeted in eastern Ghouta, recurring a pattern set elsewhere in Syria. In opposition-held east Aleppo, the healthcare network was destroyed before the area was overrun by pro-regime forces-out in late 2016. Last year alone, there were 175 assaults on health and education centres, the Unicef report says.
Medecins Sans Frontieres tells 15 of the 20 hospitals and clinics it supports in eastern Ghouta have been hit by airstrikes or shelling. Local authorities inside the enclave say the healthcare system is being systematically targeted and the capacity to care for high numbers of wounded has shrunk tremendously as a result.
” Their[ Assad regime’s] strategy is brutally clear ,” said Ghassan Chamsi, a resident in the Douma neighbourhood of eastern Ghouta.” They want to terrorise everyone into running for the borders. Either submit, or die. But don’t expect to be treated by our own .”
On almost every economic indicator, children in Syria experienced worse conditions last year than in 2016. The scarcity of food has soared across the country, with the young again suffering most for the absence of adequate nutrition. Up to 12% of young Syrians are considered to be acutely malnourished, the report says.
The psychological impact on young generations who have spent at the least half their lives in conflict, deprived of adequate food, education and healthcare, is among the most difficult risk categories to gauge.
” Their conditions require specialised therapy and services ,’ said Cappelaere.” As children, their needs differ from those of adults: as their bodies and abilities change, so must their care. These children face a very real risk of being forgotten and stigmatised as the unrelenting conflict continues .”
With opposing raging in north and central Syria, the majority of the population displaced and regional powers now more deep invested in the war than before, there appears to be little hope of the humanitarian situation easing anytime soon.
Russia and Iran have both strengthened their support for Bashar al-Assad, who was losing on the battlefield until Vladimir Putin sent the Russian us air force to prop up the Syrian leader in September 2015. Iranian-led ground troops have been central to clawing back lost ground, while opposition groups, splintered and divided , no longer pose a sustained menace to the regime.
However, Idlib and east Idlib, despite sustained assaults, remain formidable obstacles to a leadership that has pledged to return all of Syria to central control. As yet, there is no plan for what to do with eastern Ghouta’s population if they are forced to flee. In Idlib, more than 2.5 million people, many of them displaced from elsewhere in the country, are crammed into a small province faced with ever increasing humanitarian needs.
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