“The attacks were vicious ... When I lost my arm, I felt as if I were dead. Now, I carry bricks with my brother using one arm to help provide for my family.”
In March 2011, as the Arab Spring spread across the Middle East and led to the fall of various regimes, large-scale peaceful protests also began to take place in Syria. Sadly, it ended up in an armed conflict between the government and the opposing parties, which has now lasted over ten years. For the 4.8 million Syrian children born after the start of the war, this was how they spent their childhood: in displacement. It is estimated that, since the war began, nearly 6,000 children have been killed or maimed due to the conflict. Half of the Syria’s population fled their homes, with 6.2 million displaced inside the country, and another 5.6 million becoming refugees across neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. It hurts to know that, about 40% of the displaced population are children, and that the overall life expectancy of Syrian children who survive the conflict is reduced by 13 years.
“Being uneducated scares me the most, as well as having an unknown future in an unknown destination.”
Earlier this year, World Vision interviewed about 380 Syrian young people aged between 16 and 20 who are displaced across Northwest Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. We tried to find out more about their fears and dreams, and recorded the findings in our report - Too High a price to Pay: The Cost of Conflict for Syria's Children
. Those who were interviewed have expressed their concerns about the day-to-day lives of their families and themselves, and that the conflict has brought them an unquantifiable loss of learning, safety and psychosocial well-being. Sadly, having grown up with war, they do not feel that they are equipped to contribute to the recovery of Syria, even if the war would end today. The 10-year mark of the war has also made them feel that it is impossible for them to achieve their dreams and support their communities.
Young people who are displaced internally in Northwest Syria told us that they wanted to return home in the next two years, but those who are in Jordan and Lebanon were much more reluctant, due to the lack of access to health and education. In fact, in 2019, a health facility was attacked in Syria every four days, and between 2014 and 2019, 614 health workers were killed or injured. Moreover, since 2014, the UN has documented over 700 attacks on education facilities in Syria. Over half of the young people displaced inside Syria reported that they were most afraid of violence in the community and armed clashes while attending school. More than 75 per cent of all children we spoke to were not currently attending school or any other educational institution. Lack of money was cited as the main cause of this by them, with insufficient funds even to cover transportation, pay for their uniforms or school fees. Close to 30 per cent of children had to drop out of school completely because of COVID-19, and close to 20 per cent had to start working.
“The unknown. Not knowing what will happen to you. Not knowing what will happen in two days, going back to Syria or leaving the camp. You don’t know.”
When it comes to child protection, more than 70 per cent of the surveyed children confirmed having to flee due to spikes in violence and attacks. More than a quarter of the children and young people were displaced more than once. When dealing with difficulties and worries in life and learning, about 42 per cent of the children said they sought support from family members. However, this dropped sharply for adolescent girls. Only 29 per cent reported seeking family support about their worries. They looked for support from INGOs and NGOs and wanted more friendly spaces for women, girls and boys.
From this report, it is evident that this generation of Syrian children and adolescents have paid a huge and irretrievable price for this decade-long and ongoing civil war. No matter if they can go home, their best years of learning and healthy growth are already past them. “Children come to us on a daily basis in Syria, hungry, cold and deeply distressed by what they have witnessed and experienced,” says Johan Mooij, World Vision Syria's Response Director. “Boys and girls aged five or six can name every type of bomb by its sound, but sometimes can barely write their name having missed out on the chance of an education. We cannot let them remain trapped in this cycle of violence.”