The forgotten tragedy of war-torn Syria

Kevin Chiu says as the civil war rages on, millions of its young are growing up knowing little about hope but too much of the world's indifference

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 June, 2015, 11:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 June, 2015, 11:00pm

The UN has declared that the Syrian war, which has already killed over 200,000 people and displaced 12 million in the past four years, is the worst humanitarian crisis the world is facing today. It is estimated that the war has affected and traumatised over 6.6 million Syrian children.

Potentially, a whole generation of Syrian children is lost - no home, no school, no security, no childhood, and even no father or mother. Sad to admit, but the biggest losers of the war are the children.

Nearly half of the 4 million Syrians who fled the country are children. "If we don't leave, we would die," Ziyad, a 45-year-old man, told us. He and his wife, together with six children, had walked, only at night, for 15 days to reach the border with Jordan. They were taken to the Azraq camp, 100km east of the capital Amman.

The camp is in a desert. With the help of the Jordanian government, World Vision, in partnership with the UN and other agencies, built the camp in a year. It can cater for around 100,000 people in 10 "villages", and features shelters, a clean water supply, toilets and showers, schools, clinics, shops, and so on. But the camp has no electricity yet. Summer days can reach 40 degrees Celsius and there is snow in winter.

What worries Ziyad most is the gloomy future for his children. He is praying and waiting for the war to end so he can go home. But there is no end in sight. So many people are now fleeing that Lebanon is having to close registration for refugees after officially registering more than 1.2 million. Unofficially, the number could be as high as 2 million as the borders are porous. That is nearly 50 per cent on top of Lebanon's population of over 4 million.

The country simply cannot meet all the demands, whether it be shelter, medical facilities or sanitation. School capacity is stretched and there are not enough teachers. Inevitably, there are tensions between local children and Syrian children.

"We left everything in Syria. Yes, we have safety here [in Lebanon], but my children are not in school. I have destroyed their future," a father of six children told me, in tears. He and his family have been in Lebanon for four years and he has become increasingly despairing.

At night, on the streets, abuse towards Syrian refugees is more frequent. Many do not dare go out and have become more isolated. Many children have begun to beg or sell things on the streets.

As the Syrian war enters its fifth year, the world is beginning to become indifferent and even ignore it altogether. The world must not. The refugees need to know they have not been forgotten. They need courage and hope to hang in there.

Kevin Chiu is CEO of World Vision Hong Kong