Children in Syria and Iraq need immediate protection and assistance

“Heavy fighting has intensified over the past months especially in Syria and Iraq. While we are seeing a lull in fighting and encouraging signs of recovery in some areas, children are left scarred by years of violence they have been subjected to. They are in dire need of immediate protection and lifesaving assistance.” 

“According to harrowing reports that UNICEF received, children were caught in the direct line of fire, facing grave risks to their lives. Many were injured, some lost their lives, while some witnessed their loved ones being killed, injured or abducted. Other children were forced to fight in an adults’ war, not of their making. 

“On their journey in search of safety, some children were separated from their families or lost them along the way. For many, “reaching safety” was not at all safe. They faced additional risks because theywere stigmatizedfor allegedly being involved in the fighting or for living in areas previously controlled by armed groups.

Those children are often deprived of receiving lifesaving assistance, care and protection. Some are being detained, abused or interrogated. “This group of children is particularly vulnerable. They should receive protection and access to special psychological assistance to be able to recover, go back to school and re-integrate in their societies. 

“In line with the Humanitarian Principles and International Humanitarian Law, all children in need should access protection, basic services and unconditional humanitarian assistance, no matter what their families’ affiliation or nationality is and no matter which party controlled the area they lived in. 

“Stigmatization and collective punishment will likely leave children with even more scars and have grave long term consequences on their future. “UNICEF pleads to all parties involved in the fighting to recognize and uphold the rights of children and do everythingpossible to keep children out of harm’s way. “This is a reminder that they are first and foremost children.” 

Geert Cappelaere is the UNICEF Regional Director on children in conflict zones in the Middle East and North Africa

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