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Read our overview of the conflict in Syria, the refugee situation in neighboring countries, and World Vision’s response to the crisis.
More than 1 million Syrian children have fled war in their homeland with their families, the United Nations says. Ongoing fighting, coupled with the country’s first polio outbreak since 1999, have complicated aid efforts and driven many families deeper into despair.
As the war enters its fourth year, here’s some background on the growing humanitarian crisis and World Vision’s response to the needs of refugee children and their families.
As of February 12, more than 6.5 million people have been displaced within Syria, and more than 2.4 million have fled as refugees to neighboring countries.
No. Thousands of refugees are leaving Syria every day. Their main destinations are Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
Refugees lack adequate shelter, clean water, food, and hygiene items.
Most left their homes on short notice after facing shootings, bombings, and artillery fire. Often they arrive in the country of refuge with little more than the clothes they are wearing. Some have not even had a chance to grab their identity papers.
Winter is upon the region, and families need stoves, heating oil, blankets, and other necessities to keep warm and nourished.
Depending on which country refugees have come to, they have taken up residence in communities’ abandoned buildings, sheds, spare rooms, garages, and in tent settlements on vacant land. Conditions are often crowded and unsanitary. Even so, families struggle to pay rent for these spaces.
In Jordan, about 40 percent of refugees are living in camps. The main camp in Jordan is Za’atari, near the northern border with Syria. It is home to about 124,000 people — twice the number it was designed to accommodate, according to UNHCR.
Children are especially susceptible to malnutrition and disease due to lack of food and poor sanitary conditions. Many suffer from diarrheal diseases and dehydration. And winter weather further threatens their health if they’re left unprotected from the elements.
Children are also more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation in unfamiliar and overcrowded conditions. Families face pressure to marry girls off early, in an effort to reduce family expenses and help prevent sexual abuse.
In certain parts of Syria, children are now vulnerable to recent outbreaks of polio and measles, according to the World Health Organization. Experts fear other vaccine-preventable diseases will also affect internally displaced persons and refugee children under 5, since they have not received regular inoculations.
Many children have lost their homes or witnessed violence and destruction. They continue to need food provisions, household supplies, education, and counseling to help them cope with their circumstances.
If not in a camp, the burden of rent makes it difficult for parents to afford books, uniforms, and tuition fees for their children. In many cases, children are being required to give up school and start work to help provide for their families.
In Lebanon, the government has opened public schools to Syrian children, but language barriers, cost of transportation, and the poor state of the public education system keep many refugee children out of school.
In Lebanon, World Vision has assisted more than 190,000 Syrian refugees and their resident hosts. Help includes provision of food vouchers, hygiene kits, and projects to improve access to clean water and sanitation.
We’re also offering classes for Syrian children to facilitate their enrollment in Lebanese schools and providing supplementary classes for those already enrolled in school.
Additionally, World Vision runs Child-Friendly Spaces — safe areas where children can learn, engage in fun activities, and recover from emotional scars.
Aid efforts inside Syria are providing up to 70,000 people with clean water and health services.
In Jordan, World Vision provides refugee families with basic supplies, such as food, household items, and cash to pay rent. Remedial classes help children catch up on lost classroom time. It is scaling up efforts to help more people, including host families, make ends meet.
As winter continues in Za’atari, World Vision plans to rehabilitate older, unpaved parts of the camp to prevent flooding and improve drainage and sanitation in case of heavy rainfall. On January 5, the organization distributed more than 30,000 coats to children ages 2 to 12 at Za’atari.
As many as 28,000 families in all three countries are slated to receive winterization kits through World Vision. Depending on the location, a kit includes a heater, fuel, blankets, and cash to cover the cost of heating their homes, or vouchers to buy winter clothing.
With reporting by Brian Jonson and Patricia Mouamar, World Vision communications staff in Lebanon.