Syrian Refugee Numbers Hit 1 Million

8th March 2013 Posted in: Press Releases, Emergencies
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With the one millionth refugee to flee the escalating violence in Syria now registered, UNICEF NZ is warning that, without urgent funding, the lives and wellbeing of Syrian children will be at serious risk.

The UN’s Refugee agency, UNHCR, said today that one million Syrians had now fled and were seeking assistance in surrounding countries including Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey – the UN had previously expected to reach this number in June, 2013. This year alone over 400,000 Syrians have become refugees.

Dennis McKinlay, Executive Director of UNICEF NZ, said, “The conflict, and resulting humanitarian crisis, has been on-going for almost two years now. During that time UNICEF has been working to support those children and families affected, but with more than 7000 refugees fleeing Syria every day, there is serious pressure on our funding.

“Children and their families who reach neighbouring countries are safe from the horrendous conflict they have experienced, but refugees are now dependent on aid organisations like UNICEF and we are struggling to meet their basis needs.

“Almost half the total number of Syrian refugees are children (the majority under 11 years of age), with around 125 babies also born as refugees every day. The needs of refugee children and their families are immense; they need clean water and sanitation, education facilities, nutrition support, child protection services, and healthcare. 

“UNICEF, alongside our partners, is already running these services and facilities for refugees in camps and host communities, but with refugees now flooding in we need to urgently scale up this work. 

“Instead we are battling an 80% funding shortage which means we are having to consider scaling back on providing even the basics. These children have experienced horrors that even no adult should have to face – they deserve our urgent help.”
In Jordan, which has over 225,000 registered refugees, UNICEF has received just 9% of funding needed and, without additional resources, will be forced to scale back on life-saving interventions such as supplying clean water and sanitation. In Turkey funding gaps are preventing the charity from supporting education for children in camps.

UNICEF is also working across Syria itself, where funding shortages mean UNICEF can’t buy enough urgent items such as soap and warm winter clothes. Almost 2 million children are affected in Syria. Many have been internally displaced by the on-going conflict, and are living in collective shelters with few belongings and often lacking even the most basic needs. 

UNICEF is working with partners to deliver humanitarian assistance to these children and their families inside Syria. A mobile health service has just been scaled up to ensure children can get the immediate and long-term healthcare they need, whilst winter clothing, hygiene items, water treatment chemicals and other medical supplies have been distributed to over 220,000 people.

UNICEF has also been widening its outreach to assess how basic needs like clean water and education have been affected by the conflict. The education assessment, released earlier this week, found that the education of hundreds of thousands of children is under threat. One fifth of the country’s schools have suffered physical damage or are being used to shelter displaced persons. Some are being used by armed forces and other groups.

With some pupils already missing out on almost two years of schooling, UNICEF is working to address children’s learning needs by supporting more than 170 school clubs in Homs, Deraa, Rural Damascus, Tartous, Lattakia, Hama and Quneitra. The clubs allow some 40,000 children to receive much needed remedial education and take part in recreational activities. UNICEF is also providing teaching and learning supplies and is rehabilitating damaged schools. 
 
Yet funding shortfalls are preventing the provision of urgently-needed pre-fabricated classrooms, repairs and rehabilitation of learning spaces, and the provision of teaching and learning materials. 

The water infrastructure also continues to suffer, with an on-going operation underway to deliver 1,000 metric tons of water treatment supplies to Syria. The chlorine is needed to ensure that water reaching an estimated 10 million people in different parts of the country remains safe to drink, and to avoid the risk of water-borne disease. UNICEF estimates that due to the destruction of water infrastructure, water availability in some areas has dropped to a third of pre-conflict levels. 

Mr McKinlay added, “The needs of the Syrian people are huge, but UNICEF does have the ability to get access to the hardest to reach areas, and to provide much-needed assistance to those in Syria and neighbouring countries. Kiwis have been incredibly generous to date but more support, however big or small, is desperately needed to ensure a whole generation of Syrian children are not permanently damaged by this tragedy.” 

Donations can be made to UNICEF’s appeal for the children of Syria at: www.unicef.org.nz/syria 

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