This week the number of Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict passed the 2 million mark, while displaced people inside Syria now number more than 4 million. Today, according to UNICEF, more than half of Syrian refugees are children.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, says that if the conflict continues, an estimated 3.5 million refugees will flood the country’s borders.
“At this particular moment it's the highest number of displaced people anywhere in the world," he recently told reporters. “Syria has become the great tragedy of this century — a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history.”
As the severity of the conflict increases, with chemical weapons launched against the civilian population, the number of refugees is growing by the minute. Every 15 seconds a Syrian becomes a refugee.
“What is appalling is that the first million fled Syria during two years. The second million fled Syria in [the past] six months,” Guterres says. “We have now almost one-third of the Syria population that has been displaced, and half in need of assistance.”
UNICEF Emergency Specialist AbdulKadir Musse spent three months in Homs earlier this year, and is on his way back to Syria.
He says the tragedy he witnessed there was heartbreaking.
“I was in a school where two children were brought on a wheelbarrow, and these children had their legs broken by shrapnel from aerial bombardment, and they had not received medication for almost a week,” he says. “Some of our colleagues were crying.”
Musse says that no day is guaranteed, and he never knows if he will see a child again the next day.
“Some of them — when they leave in the afternoon, they say ‘goodbye,’ and you’re not sure whether you’re going to see them tomorrow,” he adds.
As a father of six, Musse was profoundly impacted by the plight of Syrian children. He says that one girl came up to him with a simple request. “She said she’d been wearing these clothes for almost one month. And she didn’t have any other clothes to put on. She wanted to change her clothes. That was all she asked.”
Musse says that when he imagines his own children in this tragic situation, he knows he has to go back. He has to do something. He has to act.
“The situation is dire,” he says, “and Syrian children need us. I’m going back there so we are with the children at the time they need us. And it’s today.”
Kristin Wright is a columnist and contributing writer at ReligionToday.com, where she focuses on global human rights issues. Kristin has covered topics such as bride trafficking in North Korea, honor killings in Pakistan, and the persecution of members of minority faiths in Iran. She has visited with religious minorities in Pakistan, worked with children at risk in Mumbai's “Red Light” district, and interviewed individuals on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kristin recently returned from Turkey and the Syrian border, where she covered the plight of refugees fleeing the conflict. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: September 4, 2013