10 years later civil war in Syria has impacted a generation children
The Arab Spring was a series of anti-government protests, uprisings, and armed rebellions that spread across much of the Arab world in the early 2010s. It began in response to corruption and economic stagnation and was sparked by the Tunisian Revolution. It is in this climate that protests in Syria began. In March of 2011 students in Syria’s southern city of Deraa graffitied revolutionary symbols on the walls of a school. The teenagers were arrested and tortured; demonstrations on their behalf were met with open fire from government forces. Many were killed and unrest erupted throughout the country. Empowered by movements in neighbouring regions, hundreds of thousands of protesters marched throughout Syria calling for reform and the resignation of then recognized President Bashar a-Assad. The administration refused and the regime responded with a brutal crackdown. These events snowballed into a full-on civil war which still persists 10 years later.
The protracted civil war has also resulted in an estimated 13.5 million Syrians being forcibly displaced. 6.8 million have become refugees and asylum seekers in what has become “the world’s largest displacement crisis for 11 years in a row.” Exiled Syrians have fled to bordering regions and throughout the world living in precarious conditions, seeking safety and protection. Another 6.7 million people are displaced within the country.
Syrians fled and continue to flee their homes due to the unbearable conditions. A 2021 World Vision report found that displaced people cited three main reasons for leaving; the extreme violence associated with the escalating conflict; depletion and utter collapse of infrastructure; and the lack of opportunity and the effect of the conflict on children.
Violence and Communal Decimation
Reports on violence and death in the country vary. Estimates suggest that at least 350,000 civilians have been killed. Other reports approximate that number reaching up to 606,000. Nearly half of those killed are children. The UN estimates one child is injured or dies every 8 hours in Syria; they estimate this statistic to be consistent over the past decade. Children who survive heavily warring areas are also at risk of being forced into soldiership, some as young as 7. Violence has reduced over the decade but killings, bombings, kidnappings and other forms of harm continue carrying over into every other aspect of life in Syria.
Communities and facilities have also been decimated throughout the region. Only about half of all healthcare facilities are fully functional and “more than 8 million people lack clean water access. Millions of children are also out of school due to the conflict. One third of schools have been damaged, destroyed, or taken over by the military or a displaced group. The UN confirmed approximately 700 attacks on education facilities since the start of the conflict. Children who can continue their education also do so in unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
Poverty, Food Insecurity, and the Effect of Violence
Due to conflict, poverty reigns in the region. Approximately 80% of the population live at or below the poverty line. Unable to find work or secure resources Syrians struggle daily to make ends meet.
This poverty not only further contributes to the breakdown of societal fabric but to the deterioration of the physical health of those impacted as well. With a lack of economic resources, many parents are forced to reduce or often eliminate fresh foods. 9.3 million people have become food insecure. Since the onset of the civil war staple goods such as meat, fruit, and vegetables have become luxury items. Families often reported a diet of only rice and beans for weeks with many skipping meals frequently or daily.
Without adequate food supplies an entire generation of Syrians are threatened by malnutrition. In 2020, Save the Children found that “65% of children have not had an apple, an orange, or a banana for at least three months. In North East Syria, almost a quarter of children said that they had not eaten these fruits in at least nine months.” One mother reported saving for three weeks to buy a single apple which she split between her five family members. Response Director for the organization, Sonia Khush, stated that “malnourished children face myriad risks to their health and wellbeing, such as stunting*, which limits children’s ability to fight off disease, increases the likelihood of anxiety and depression, and leads to poor performance in school.” 1
Insecurity and war have had a devastating effect on the health of the population and notably the mental and physical wellbeing of Syrian children. Children under 10 years old have only known violence, poverty, and starvation. Many face extreme psychological impacts from witnessing and experiencing violence. For instance, according to a 2015 University of Columbia study, 50 to 57% of Syrian children and adults are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and an additional 30% report symptoms of depression. The UN reports that in 2020 children reported to be displaying signs of psycho-social distress has doubled due to prolonged exposure to “violence, shock, and trauma.”
Displaced Syrian children are also facing higher rates of child marriage at increasingly younger ages. This is worrying as studies show that the younger a person is at the time of marriage, especially when wed to adult partners, the more likely they are to encounter domestic violence and sexual abuse. This trend especially affects young female children who in turn face more exponential barriers to education and increased negative mental and physical health issues.
Continuing Factors and Calls to Action
The impact on Syrian families has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. From March to September of 2020 the number of food-insecure children across the country rose dramatically. In a single year the cost of food increased over 230%. The recent instability of the Turkish lira has also intensified economic issues for displaced Syrians. Refugees and asylum seekers are increasingly turned away by country border guards, relief organizations, and support agencies.
Humanitarian organizations across the region and the world are calling for increased resources, support, and action. Families and children can no longer live in these circumstances. The mental and physical survival of a generation depends on betterment. UN Rights Chief, Michele Bachelet urges people to remember that “behind each recorded death was a human being, born free and equal, in dignity and rights. We must always make victims’ stories visible, both individually and collectively, because the injustice and horror of each of those deaths should compel us to action.”
MOAS work in Syria
Last year MOAS was able to establish a brand-new partnership with the non-governmental organization Action for Humanity. The organisation was founded in 2011 in the United Kingdom by a group of doctors whose focus was to provide assistance and aid to those devastated by conflict and war. Action for Humanity specialises in delivering humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable people affected by conflict, disasters and extreme poverty. Throughout this year, MOAS will work in collaboration with Action for Humanity to deliver nutritional aid to hospitals in the Syrian region of Raqqa: in this area communities are in desperate need of nutritional supplements, but are unfortunately underserved by such services.
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