Last week, ahead of the current Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria, upon invitation by UNICEF, I visited Jordan and Lebanon to see how EU programmes are supporting and empowering Syrian refugees and all vulnerable children in host communities.
As we enter the ninth year of the Syrian conflict, the protracted refugee crisis poses a huge strain on host countries like Jordan and Lebanon, which are now facing enormous challenges to meet the needs of vulnerable children. Since the beginning of the crisis, around 80 per cent of Syrian refugees, most of them children, have crossed the border looking for safety in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. While Jordan generously hosts about 1.5 million Syrian refugees, one out of three residents in Lebanon is a refugee.
The situation in the host countries is increasingly volatile and the needs of all children and youth are growing. In a context where many families are struggling to survive – living below the poverty line – children are the most affected. It is alarming that child marriage, child labour and bullying are increasing. The drop out from school combined with lack of economic opportunities for young people is a ticking bomb in these countries where 70 per cent of the population is below 30.
As European Parliament Coordinator on Children’s Rights, I urge all donors not to forget the children of Syria and to
- Prioritise children — and continue to invest in children in order to avoid a lost generation;
- Ensure continued humanitarian aid as well as long term development in cooperation with UNICEF the UN family and NGOs to support capacity building to government institutions, in particular to develop sustainable local health and education system;
- Ensure access to education, safety in schools and safe pathways for girls going to schools. In this context, continue to invest in child protection is critical to enable children to build the life skills needed for their future;
- Strengthen cooperation with host countries to increase their capabilities to combat all forms of violence against children, at home and in schools.
The EU has been not only a donor, but also a key partner to UNICEF, other UN agencies and NGOs in the Region, allowing for countries hosting Syrian refugees to strengthen their public services and benefit their local communities and refugee families alike. Now, there is a need to step up joint efforts to build robust social safety and to address the poverty and vulnerability of children and protect them from serious violations.
Anna Maria Corazza Bildt
European Parliament Coordinator on Children’s Rights