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One in a Syrian million

Thousands of Syrian refugees currently camped out on the border with Iraq are children living in squalid conditions.
Last modified: 23 Aug 2013 17:59

A million Syrian children are refugees. 750,000 of them are under 11. A further 2 million are displaced. Many of them are traumatised by the things they have seen. Some have been forced into child labour, others have forced into the sex trade.  The international community has failed them. Those are some of the findings of a UN report by its refugee agency and its children's fund. 

Looking around the camp on Iraq's border with Syria at the hundreds of children I see, I can well believe the findings and the figures.  

What makes the whole thing worse is the resilience of children. For some, coming to this camp is like one big adventure. They run through the spaces between tents kicking up a dust storm which follows in their wake, a little bit like the cartoon character "The Road‎ runner". Clearly this is no cartoon, and there is no comic relief.

What there is is punishing heat, and a foul stench from the toilets that have not been cleaned in a week, and are unlikely to be cleaned anytime soon.  

Already some children here are fading quickly. They lie still under the canvas of their tents, too tired to move. ‎One child I saw could barely breathe. For a split second I feared the worst - the relief when she blinked was immense.  

Massoud is around seven years old, maybe eight, no one really knows. He clings to his mother, and does not speak. I offer him my hand but he does not take it, instead disappearing further into his mother's protective shield.  

The UN's children's fund, UNICEF, says this is a common reaction for children who have seen war. To deal with it they encourage the children to draw their experiences. I have seen this done before in Pakistan. The pictures can be horrific, not so much because they are graphic, but when a child draws a gun shooting and killing a man, the basic shape of the drawing is so innocent that it chills.

Imagine a child drawing a bunny rabbit. The ears are outsized, the teeth prominent and the whole thing is just an outline. Well imagine that bunny is now a tank and you get the idea. 

The Kawergost camp I'm in has no facilities yet to deal with the problems of the children. It does not have clean water or sanitation, never mind a school. UNICEF says all that is coming, albeit slowly. 

All sides in Syria's conflict claim to be fighting for the people in one way or another. Currently, I'm among the Syrian people, 15,000 of them to be precise, and I cannot imagine any of them want war on their behalf. Everyone I spoke too, and I spoke to a lot, said the same thing in one form or another: "We just want to take our children home".  

Home. Across a border just a few hours away. But who knows when they will be able to make that short journey.