Destruction caused by arial shelling in Eastern Ghouta, 25th February 2018.

Seven Years since the Syrian Dream

The Conflict in Syria is not “Normal”

After seven years of war in Syria, we hear more and more that the general public is becoming desensitized to the conflict. As horrible as the news reports are, the stories are no longer shocking. But we must never accept suffering and human rights violations as “the new normal.” The crisis in Syria is unacceptable—and it’s getting worse.

In the U.S., people work hard to achieve the American dream. Before the conflict, families throughout Syria were pursuing their Syrian dream—sending their children to school, buying what they wanted, working and running businesses. That was their normal.

When you listen to displaced Syrians describe life before the conflict, it sounds a lot like the lives my friends, family and neighbors live:

Just as we strive to raise our children in peaceful communities surrounded by neighbors, friends and relatives, a mom named Haya* reflected to us that: “Ours was a simple quiet village.” Seven-year-old Amer* recollected that: “My grandfather used to lift me and pick me up, play with me. My memories of Syria are we went for a walk at night, with my father and my mother. We bought something sweet.”

Sadly, seven years on, we know that many places in Syria are anything but quiet. Escalation in fighting forced more than a million people across Syria from their homes in the last three months of 2017.

Just as we dream of owning homes and giving our children more than we ever had, 7-year-old Lubna* told us: “I had a big, big home. My grandmother got me a toy, I remember that. I had a white room and it had a closet. The closet had a lot of clothes in it. I had a lot of toys in Syria.”

Today, homes in communities like Eastern Ghouta are being decimated by bombings. Satellite images show neighborhoods with the majority of their buildings destroyed. Basic services like sewage, electricity and water are gone.

Just as we are ambitious and work hard to provide for our families, one young boy we met named Mushen* told us: “We used to have chickens and sheep in Syria. My dad had a small shop. We also had two cars.”

Now, in besieged communities in Syria, 80 to 90 percent of people  are now unemployed and even staple foods are unaffordable for many families.

Just as we send our children to school and want them to be safe, 13-year-old Rasha* remembered that: “My school was really nice, it had two playgrounds. I really liked the school and had many friends.”

But in Syria, attacks often target schools and hospitals. In Eastern Ghouta alone, more than 60 schools have been hit by bombing in the first two months of 2018. Many schools operate in basements because of bombings. Children are years behind in basic reading and math skills.

We must actively resist the feeling that what we are seeing out of Syria is normal. It would not be for us and it is not for Syrian families who are desperate for peace. Seven years of conflict must end now. Millions of Syrians are dreaming of rebuilding their lives.

Since 2012, Save the Children has been supporting children and families both inside and outside of Syria. Our programs address physical and psychosocial health, return children to education, give them safe spaces to play, provide food and more. Save the Children will continue to raise its voice for those affected by the Syrian conflict. On March 15, join us by sharing your message of hope for Syrians on social media with the hashtag #7WordsForSyria.

Ending the War on Children

Basma* was in her elementary school classroom near Damascus, Syria when the building was hit. This curious 8-year-old is eager to learn, but violence has displaced her family multiple times. This has meant different schools, none as good as the one back home. When another school she attended was hit, 20 students died.

Basma*, 8, is from southern Syria but fled from her home when her school was attacked in an airstrike that injured many of her friends. Photo:  Khalil Ashawi/Save the Children
Basma*, 8, is from southern Syria but fled from her home when her school was attacked in an airstrike that injured many of her friends. Photo: Khalil Ashawi/Save the Children

Sadly Basma’s experiences and fear do not make her unique. In a new report just released by Save the Children and the Peace Research Institute Oslo, we found that 357 million children around the world live within conflict zones. That’s more children than the entire US population living within 31 miles of conflict. Many of these kids have never lived in peace.

In Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp last year, I met boys and girls who, like Basma, don’t get to attend the schools back home their parents dreamed of sending them to. Save the Children is running early education programs in the camp so that these children, forced from their schools, are able to build the crucial foundations of their educations.

If a kid’s childhood is impacted by conflict, what will her future be? Trends show that conflicts are lasting longer. For example, Afghanistan has had at least 17 years of conflict and conflict has afflicted Iraq for the better part of 15 years. In the most dangerous countries for children in conflict, fighting can take away entire childhoods.

All aspects of a child’s life can be impacted when she lives in a conflict zone. More mothers are dying in labor at home because they cannot access health facilities, or are afraid to because hospitals are commonly targeted in modern fighting. Children who do survive birth in conflict zones may not have access to healthcare as they grow up for the same reasons. Diseases prevented by vaccinations in peace-time, like polio and diphtheria, take hold, compounding the threats children face. A child’s mental health can be impacted into adulthood due to the trauma of violence.

Conflict is more dangerous for children now than at any time in the last 20 years, and attacks on schools are the “new normal.” Today, 27 million kids worldwide are out of school due to conflict. Some have never been inside a classroom. The interruption of education has a long-term impact on children’s futures and the socio-economic recovery of a country.

All children deserve a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm, but conflict can rob all of this from a child. It is the responsibility of the international community to protect children from the horrors of war. We must commit to preventing children being put at risk, upholding international laws and standards, holding violators to account and rebuilding shattered lives.

Protecting children affected by conflict is Save the Children’s founding mission, and nearly 100 years later, it remains our top priority. Our founder Eglantyne Jebb said, “Humanity owes the child the best it has to give.” It is difficult to dream about the future when, like Basma, all you’ve known is war. We owe children childhoods free of conflict.

Helping Families in the Wake of Hurricanes Harvey & Irma

When I went to Texas after Hurricane Harvey hit, I met families who had already been through the unimaginable—fleeing their homes in waist-deep water, carrying a few precious belongings over their heads, and trying to find a safe space for their children in huge shelters not designed for the littlest evacuees.  Now that the immediate danger is past, they are dealing with the uncertainty of what their homes and futures hold.

 

In the midst of the chaos, Save the Children is helping kids cope. We set up Child Friendly Spaces in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas—bright, welcoming places for children to play with volunteers trained in helping children through trauma. We distributed supplies like cribs, strollers and wash basins to families in shelters across Texas and in Louisiana, so that parents can care HurricaneHarvey_Carolynfor their babies and toddlers. And now we’re supporting child care centers so they can get back up-and-running—helping parents get back to work and helping children get back to learning and playing.

 

As always when disaster strikes, the poorest communities are hit the hardest—and the effects of this storm will be felt for a long time. Save the Children’s Board Chair, Dr. Jill Biden, visited a mega shelter in Houston last week and met with families who have lost so much. Board Members and Artist Ambassador Jennifer Garner visited shelters and child care centers and showed families that Save the Children will be there for them in the long-term.

 

Even with recovery underway in Texas, Save the Children turned our attention to Hurricane Irma. In Florida alone, more than 4 million children were potentially impacted during Hurricane Irma and nearly 200,000 people were in shelters across the state. As families return to their homes and rebuild, we have supplies for babies, toddlers and children ready for distribution wherever they’re needed most.

 

The American public’s generosity to their neighbors has been wonderful to see. We were honored to be part of the Hand in Hand telethon last night to benefit the victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and I’m so grateful for the ongoing support for families and children who have seen their world turned upside-down.

 

We know that children’s needs don’t end when the rain and flooding stops. Save the Children will be there for kids today, tomorrow and over the coming weeks and months to help them cope, rebuild and plan for the future.

 

Taking the Scary Out of Disaster for Kids

Erin Lauer
Erin Lauer

U.S. Preparedness Manager

Save the Children U.S

August 8, 2017

When it comes to the weather in northwest Arkansas, the forecast can be a bit like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get. Extreme heat, nasty thunderstorms, flash flooding, ice storms, tornadoes and even earthquakes have all impacted families in this area in the foothills of the Ozarks.

The risks may seem overwhelming, but the second graders at Butterfield Elementary School in Fayetteville are now ready to weather whatever storm may come their way after participating in a recent Save the Children Prep Rally. A Prep Rally is an emergency preparedness program full of activities and games that help children learn the basics of getting ready for disasters.

More than half of American families don’t have an emergency plan, but kids can play a key role in helping their families get ready for disasters. In fact, families of school-age children who bring home preparedness resources are 75 percent more likely to have an emergency plan. That’s why Butterfield Elementary invested in preparing their kids.

Students from Fayetteville’s Butterfield Elementary School participate in a Prep Rally. Photo by Bob Coleman.
Students from Fayetteville’s Butterfield Elementary School participate in a Prep Rally. Photo by Bob Coleman.

The Butterfield Elementary Prep Rally helped 100 second graders learn how to recognize risks in their area, how to make a family emergency plan, and what supplies to have ready in a disaster. The program uses fun activities, games, and dance to help kids learn about disasters, empowering them with safety and resilience skills. The Un-Telephone game reminded the kids how it can be difficult to communicate during a crisis, and how important it is to know what to do before a disaster. The Family Plan countdown had everyone up and motioning for their 3 ICE (in case of emergency) contacts, 2 evacuation routes and 1 safe place.  Students also played the Disaster Supplies Relay race, learning about what items they should bring with them in case of a disaster.

“The Prep Rally was really fun — now I keep my go bag on the table in case something happens,” said Katherine, age 8.

After closing with the Prep Step song and dance, the children went outside for a special treat — a visit from their local first responders who keep them safe every day. Fayetteville Fire, Police, Central EMS and the Washington County Sheriff taught the children about the different roles they play in an emergency, and brought fire trucks, ambulances and police cars for the kids to explore. The highlight of the event was a visit by the medical transport helicopter from Mercy Hospital, which landed on the soccer field and gave kids a first-hand look at the vehicle that can help bring sick children to the hospital nearly 200 miles away.

Jennifer Condron, one of Butterfield Elementary’s second grade teachers said, “What a memorable and exciting event! I just sent pictures to parents and encouraged them to talk with their children about their emergency plans for home.”

Local first responders from Mercy Hospital showed students how the helicopter and its crew can help someone who is hurt or sick. Photo by Bob Coleman.
Local first responders from Mercy Hospital showed students how the helicopter and its crew can help someone who is hurt or sick. Photo by Bob Coleman.

Debbie Malone, the Community Preparedness Champion for Washington County added, “The Prep Rally was a great way to teach kids about disasters in a way that wasn’t scary, and help them build relationships with local first responders. It was really nice to see the community coming together to promote safety and preparedness to our children.”

The Prep Rally was presented as part of the Resilient Children/Resilient Communities Initiative, led by Save the Children’s partnership with the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and funded by a grant from GSK. This three-year initiative, through two pilot programs in Arkansas and New York, will develop child-focused community resilience planning that can be brought to national scale. For more information, please visit ncdp.columbia.edu/rcrc.

You too can help your community get ready with a Prep Rally. Download Save the Children’s free Prep Rally guide books and lead preparedness activities with your local school, child care, camp or Girl Scout troop. Learn more at www.SavetheChildren.org/GetReady

Search and Rescue's Team Leader, Gillian, assists in the rescue of over 300 refugees and migrants from an overloaded boat in distress.

A Letter from the Front Lines of the Refugee Crisis

Saving lives at sea

How did they get here? It’s a question I can’t help asking myself, every time I see a child rescued from the sea. This time it’s a boy of perhaps 17. Ali* (*name changed for security) is in our on-board clinic, just a few hours after we picked him up following his life-threatening ordeal at sea. His body is cramping due to malnutrition. He can barely speak. As I help him to eat he slowly regains some strength and manages a whisper. He gestures to his injured foot. I realize he is describing how it happened. His wounds are the result of torture in Libya. How he got here becomes a little clearer, a small part of the puzzle solved.

Search and Rescue's Team Leader, Gillian, assists in the rescue of over 300 refugees and migrants from an overloaded boat in distress.
Search and Rescue’s Team Leader, Gillian, assists in the rescue of over 300 refugees and migrants from an overloaded boat in distress.

“I think I can see something”, said a member of my team earlier that morning, binoculars raised. On the horizon, a microscopic black dot. It appears then disappears. It is 7:15 a.m. and we have been scouring the horizon since first light. A second opinion from our captain is equally inconclusive. As we move closer to investigate the outline of a tightly packed rubber boat soon becomes clear. The dinghy would not have lasted long. It was beginning to deflate and no one was wearing a life jacket.

A quarter of those rescued are children

After notifying the Italian coastguard and getting their approval to proceed we approach and find more than 100 people crammed on the flimsy dinghy. We deploy our fast rescue boats and soon they are aboard our search & rescue ship, the Vos Hestia. Around a quarter are children. Later that day we took on board 100 more from another rescue ship. Ali was among them.

By now, this is a story that is sadly all too familiar. But it’s worth retelling, because in recent days doubts have been cast on the way NGOs in the Mediterranean save lives. Specifically, people are seeing photos of refugees and migrants on rescue ships and asking, “How did they get here?”

We’ve been told we’re part of the problem, and even that we are colluding with the same smugglers who callously cast people off from the shores of north Africa in the dark, early hours of the morning knowing full well the coming sunrise might be the last their ‘clients’ ever see. This is categorically untrue. Those making these allegations are making assumptions that just aren’t factual.

The deadliest crossing on record

We never communicate with traffickers or people smugglers and only operate in international waters. We find refugees and migrants in distress through collaboration with other NGO vessels and the Italian coastguard and frankly, a huge dose of luck – luck that is still sadly absent for too many. Last year was the deadliest on record for people crossing the Mediterranean. Altogether around 5,000 refugees and migrants lost their lives. Close to 1,000 people have already died trying to cross this year.

Save the Children’s crew on board the Vos Hestia are fighting against the odds every day to limit the needless loss of life in the Mediterranean. We never know when the call will come. My team go to bed in their cabins each night knowing they could be roused at any moment. Just last weekend search and rescue capacity was pushed to breaking point.

Our sole mission is to save the lives of people, particularly children, who are escaping violence, persecution and extreme poverty. We save people from the very real threat of drowning and protect the children we bring aboard. If the search and rescue efforts of NGOs like ours stopped, the death toll would only increase further.

We have also seen little evidence that the reduction of search and rescue missions leads to a decrease in attempts to cross the Mediterranean. The presence of search and rescue does not imply more people will cross, it simply means those who do are more likely to survive.

We shouldn’t be all that’s stopping the desperate search for safety from becoming a death sentence. But that is the situation we are in. Smugglers are knowingly endangering the lives of people seeking better futures at extortionate costs and extreme conditions.

Thousands of children are still at risk

There are thousands of children among those making the crossing and no child should drown in search of a better future. Until the EU provides safe and legal routes to Europe, both for those in need of international protection and for other migrants, people will continue to risk their lives to reach Europe. Questioning the impact of what we do as humanitarians is in our DNA. Everything we do starts from the principle that we must ‘do no harm.’

‘How did they get here?’ We ask it every day. The answer is violence, poverty and exploitation. The evidence shows that we make it more likely Ali and others like him will survive.

Gillian Moyes is the Team Leader for Save the Children’s Search and Rescue response

To learn more about our Search and Rescue Response, click here. 

Lubna*, 20 days old, at an IDP camp in Iraq.

Born On The Run: Young Iraqi Mothers Fleeing ISIS Give Birth Anywhere They Can

With the battle for West Mosul still raging, and ISIS increasingly using civilians as human shields as coalition airstrikes continue, many expectant mothers are fleeing for their lives – in some cases even giving birth on the run.

Layla* is just three days old and was born in the ruins of an abandoned house, with shelling and shooting all around. Her 17-year-old mother Rehab* was just days away from her due date when the fighting in her neighborhood got unbearable and forced her and her family to flee in the middle of the night.

Rehab fell repeatedly as they tried to escape and went into labor hours into the journey.

“I went into labor on the road. I was very scared for me and my baby but my mother and another older woman helped me,” said Rehab. “It was very quick, maybe just 15 minutes. We rested for about another 30 minutes and then we started running again.”

The family is now in Hamam Al Alil reception center, the main focal point for those fleeing Mosul, where more than 242,000 have been registered since the offensive began.

Most people are relocated quickly, but with thousands arriving every day and more than 320,000 people displaced since the Mosul offensive began six months ago, families, many with young children, are falling through the gaps.

Save the Children is distributing water, toiletries and newborn kits in the camps and have built and continue to clean latrines in the reception center.

Twenty-day old Lubna* has been in the center for almost two weeks. Her 15-year-old mother Reem* was in labor for more than two days but could not get medical care due to the fighting raging outside. The second she was strong enough, her and her mother Masa* fled with several other members of their family.

“Her delivery was very hard, very hard indeed, but there was nothing we could do because of the fighting. We wanted to leave Mosul,” says Masa.

“My brother has been killed and we wanted to go but Reem was too weak, so we stayed for five days and then we left and walked to safety. Thank God Lubna is healthy but we are very worried about her and that she will get sick in a place like this.”

Marwa*, 5 months, at Hamam al-Alil IDP camp in Iraq. Marwa*s mother Ashna* and her father Salar* fled fighting in Mosul with their six young children, including Marwa*. Marwa* said: "The journey was hard and me and the children were very scared. But all I could think about was how we needed to get to safety and how I needed to keep my children safe – so that drove me and kept me going even though the children were very hungry and they were crying a lot. My older children were able to walk but we had to carry the younger ones in our arms – I carried Marwa*, while my husband carried my son and my uncle my other daughter. Marwa* is sick. Ten days ago she got a high fever and bad diarrhea. We were given medicine but it is not working and then, about two days ago, she got a bad cough that is getting worse. Luckily she sleeps at night, but her diarrhea never stops. It is very difficult to deal with this here. There is no privacy at all. Neither me, nor the baby, have had a shower since we arrived 20 days ago and I have five other young children to look after. We all have to sleep on the floor in the tent with many other families. It is noisy and dirty."
Marwa*, 5 months, at an IDP camp in Iraq. Marwa*s mother Ashna* and her father Salar* fled fighting in Mosul with their six young children.

Save the Children’s Deputy County Director Aram Shakaram says:

“The situation inside the reception center is extremely poor and there is a widespread shortage of food, water and blankets. Whole families sleep on nothing but cardboard, huddling together for warmth at night.

“Very young babies, many just days or weeks old are living in these conditions and their mothers, some who are as young as 15, are not getting the support they need.

“With 325,000 people still displaced since the Mosul offensive began and thousands still fleeing every day, it is imperative that we get more funding to support new mothers and their extremely vulnerable children who are starting their lives off in camps.”

Save the Children provides education and psychosocial support to children displaced from Mosul and our child protection teams work in the reception centers to identify cases needing urgent assistance, like unaccompanied minors.

Since the offensive began, we have distributed 3,740 newborn care packages, which have reached almost 11,500 infants. We have also distributed 7,000 rapid response kits that have reached almost 33,000 people and contain essentials like food, water and toiletries for the newly displaced. In addition we are also working to provide clean drinking water and basic sanitation to tens of thousands of people who have fled from Mosul.

To learn more about our response to the refugee crisis and how you can help, click here.

*Names changed for protection

Haiti Is Facing A Humanitarian Crisis We Can Solve — So Why Aren’t We?

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Originally published on huffingtonpost.com

Of the many humanitarian crises challenging the world today, none is as solvable as the human disaster that Hurricane Matthew has wrought in southwestern Haiti. The threats to human life in Haiti’s Sud and Grand Anse departments are entirely within our grasp to address immediately: starvation, exposure and disease—cholera, from contaminated water. And we have the solution at hand: food, shelter, clean water, medicine and sanitation supplies.

The only barrier is the collective will and resolve to act. Not doing so now — as we approach the one-month mark — means certain death for thousands of people, perhaps tens of thousands.

Hurricane Matthew hit the United States with wind, rain and floods that have tragically killed more than 40 people, but gave its hardest punch to southwestern Haiti. The category 4 storm made a direct hit on the remote peninsula, killing hundreds and pummeling the landscape with brutal 145 mph winds and as much as 40 inches of rain. The wind stripped trees, ripped off roofs and toppled block walls. Overflowing rivers tore out bridges and spread cholera bacteria. Crops not killed by wind were drowned by a surge of seawater; ocean water also flooded wells, contaminating precious sources of fresh water.

As a result, an estimated 1.4 million people are in need of assistance, many without food, safe water, shelter or basic health services, and children are often the most vulnerable.

Because the few roads that serve this region are badly damaged, towns along the southwestern coast were without help for days. In Port-à-Piment and Port Salut, some health clinics and cholera treatment centers are damaged, but functioning with limited supplies and an increasing patient load. Food is scarce and the vast majority of homes are damaged or destroyed.

Cholera, a deadly diarrheal disease, is a serious concern with more than 3,400 suspected cases in the three weeks following the storm. Patients are arriving at cholera centers, but without additional, ongoing deliveries of large quantities of IV fluids, water purification supplies — tablets or even bleach — and basic sanitation items such as soap and gloves, the disease will most certainly expand its deadly reach, making the hurricane’s death toll a footnote. In some damaged health facilities cholera patients are treated alongside children and pregnant women, increasing the risk of infection.

In the hardest hit communities, 100 percent of homes are destroyed, there is no food, little water and no aid deliveries. Understandably, people in the region are becoming increasingly desperate. With their livestock dead and crops stripped, survivors can’t subsist without outside help. Without shelter, they are at risk of exposure. When all water sources are most likely contaminated with cholera bacteria, they can’t safely take a drink. And with roads blocked and no aid trucks in sight, all hope is gone.

The Haitian government and local communities are doing their best under tough circumstances. Our organizations with decades of experience working in Haiti are also mounting significant relief responses. Like partners and peers, we have qualified teams on the ground with many Haitian staff members leading the charge and are rushing aid to as many communities as we can. But our experience tells us that these collective efforts are not enough. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “A massive response is required.” The need for food, shelter, medicine and cholera prevention and treatment supplies is too urgent. The United Nations is seeking $119 million for Haiti’s recovery but so far only 28 percent of that has been raised. Will the commitment be met by member nations? If so, when? There is no time to find out.

This disaster requires mobilization at a huge scale and fast. The U.S. government has deployed resources but if it does more, it will signal the urgency to others. Individuals, corporations and foundations need to support the work of qualified relief agencies that can save lives.

Amid the spin and noise of the news cycle, let’s not tune out the voices expressing human needs. There are a lot of complicated things in the world. This crisis is not one of them.

The Situation in Iraq: Children Shot at and Blown Up By Landmines

6-month-old baby girl *Sara cries at Dibis checkpoint near the Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
6-month-old baby girl *Sara cries at Dibis checkpoint near the Iraqi city of Kirkuk.

by Mike McCusker

A dusty police station in northern Iraq is a strange sort of paradise.

But that is what it is to the eight families crammed in here on the hard, tiled floor. Babies are crying and young children are sleeping where they collapsed from exhaustion.

They have walked over 60 miles, and scaled a mountain last night, to escape territory held by the Islamic State group.

Many did it barefoot, including a five-year-old. But they survived. “I have come from jail to paradise,” one mother says to me, surrounded by her five children. “I am finally home.”

The Nour* family arrived at Garmawa IDP camp in late 2014, displaced by the fighting between armed groups in Iraq. The youngest of their six children, Sera*, was only 11 months old at the time and suffering from malnutrition and a host of subsequent health issues. Save the Children Child Protection staff identified her case when the family arrived and arranged access to medical treatment for Sera and her mother. Save the Children is still working with the family to ensure that they are accessing health services, as Sera’s health is still fragile. Sera's* mother says: "We arrived here on 15 November 2014, all eight of us together, from a village near the Mosul dam. In the family we are two parents with six children – five girls and a boy. When we arrived Save the Children helped us, they gave us clothes and milk. At the time Sera was only 11 months old. I was trying to feed her but it wasn’t enough and she was suffering from malnutrition. She was so thin. I knew something was wrong with Sera before but we were in the village. It was right on the frontline and there were no doctors or hospitals. Once we came here we were able to find treatment for Sera. We got medicine and food from the health centre and Save the Children provided us with transport to and from the hospital in Dohuk. The medical tests cost money that we had to borrow from another family, and a doctor made a donation, so we couldn’t afford transport costs as well. I’ve already sold my sewing machine to pay for the treatment. Sera still has problems. She is still very small, only 7kg, and for her age that’s too small. But she has grown a lot and has eaten a lot of food. The Save the Children staff member who found us is always checking in with us, many times he visited us and took us to the health centre. He is wonderful. The other children go to the Child Friendly Space here and they love it. They like the colouring activities. We don’t know how next year will be. The doctor says we must visit every two months for follow-up appointments. It would be difficult to manage without Save the Children. We would like to go back home but there is still fighting, so we don’t know when we will be able to return."
The Nour* family arrived at Garmawa IDP camp in late 2014, displaced by the fighting between armed groups in Iraq. The youngest of their six children, Sera*, was only 11 months old at the time and suffering from malnutrition and a host of subsequent health issues. Save the Children is working with the family to ensure that they are accessing health services, as Sera’s health is still fragile.

Shot at as they flee

These parents tell me that they are lucky. They show me graphic images of families who did not make it on their cell phones.

Pictures of children who dodged IS snipers and checkpoints, only to step on land mines sown into fields and mountain paths. Others collapsed and died on the journey after running out of water.

One woman says she paid thousands of dollars to smugglers — only to be pointed in the vague direction of freedom and then abandoned with her family to stumble down deadly routes in the dark.

I hear stories like these every day.

Families are growing increasingly desperate to flee with their children before the final assault. And they’re ready to risk capture and execution by IS fighters.

“I tried escaping on four separate occasions,” one woman says. “But each time I was caught and sent back, and my husband was brutally beaten.”

Kirkuk, Iraq. 16th October, 2016. A group of mothers sit with their children at Dibis checkpoint near the Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
A group of mothers sit with their children at Dibis checkpoint near the Iraqi city of Kirkuk.

An exodus of one million 

We have already seen at least 150,000 people flee their homes in recent weeks, and more are on the move every day.

When the final push for Mosul comes, the U.N. and aid agencies like us on the ground are expecting an exodus of a million, maybe more.

What we’re witnessing now in areas recently captured from IS by the Iraqi army, suggests they will need everything — water, food, shelter and psychological first aid.

“We have nothing but our clothes!” one man shouted out to us when we arrived with help.

The only memories some young children have is of a long and brutal two years of IS rule. Families told us they had resorted to desperate tactics to feed themselves under IS rule, some even cooking grass to eat.

A group of mothers sit with their children at Dibis checkpoint near the Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
Save the Children is providing emergency water supplies, dried food, soap and other items to newly displaced families.

600,000 trapped children

Every family I meet has their own harrowing tale.

As the offensive fast approaches, Save the Children is gearing up our response plan to cope with the incredible level of need we expect will flood out from the city. By our estimates there are 600,000 children trapped inside right now.

Within 12-72 hours from the call to deploy, we aim to get emergency supplies to those that need them.

And we aim to provide proper care for children traveling alone, reuniting them with their families where we can.

But across the board there is a shortage of funding. The UN has raised less than half of the money it needs for what is likely to be the biggest humanitarian crisis for many years. We need more help.

In the violence of this assault, children must be kept safe while they are fleeing — and protected if they make it out alive.

Mike McCusker is Save the Children’s Field Manager in Baghdad

Learn more about how you can help us protect vulnerable children caught in the crossfire.

A new IDP family receiving their RRM kit:  1 Hygiene Kit, 1 dignity kit, 1 food kit and 2 containers of water.

Stay or Flee—Desperate and Impossible Choices for Families in Mosul

As Iraqi and coalition forces begin their assault on Mosul, the lives of more than half a million children are hanging in the balance. The escalation in the conflict is forcing families to make an impossible choice. Stay in their homes and risk being killed in the conflict, trapped beyond the reach of humanitarian aid without food and medical care, or flee into the heart of the fighting on unsecured roads, facing an uncertain future.

Graphic showing the desperate situation for the residents of Mosul as the offensive begins.
Graphic showing the desperate situation for the residents of Mosul as the offensive begins.

Families inside Mosul say they cannot afford to buy food, water and basic medical supplies, and have been preparing shelters inside their homes in case of bombardment. Many say they are too scared to leave the city until the roads out are secured.

 

Rapid response distribution for new arrivals at a screening center in Salah ad Din province, Iraq. These trucks are loaded with boxes pre-positioned for newly expected arrivals from areas of conflict in the north as a result of the impending Mosul offensive. At least 150,000 people have been displaced so far and the offensive could force over 1 million people to flee their homes.
Rapid response distribution for new arrivals at a screening center in Salah ad Din province, Iraq. These trucks are loaded with boxes pre-positioned for newly expected arrivals from areas of conflict in the north as a result of the impending Mosul offensive. At least 150,000 people have been displaced so far and the offensive could force over 1 million people to flee their homes.

Military commanders have asked vulnerable families to stay inside and put white flags on their homes. At best this is impractical in a brutal urban conflict. At worst, it risks civilian buildings being turned into military positions and families being used as human shields.

A man walks through the dirty screening center to line up for distribution. Save the Children are currently doing waste management to clean the screening center of rubbish and make it more livable for IDPs stuck in the area.
A man walks through the dirty screening center to line up for distribution. We are currently involved with waste management to clean the screening center of rubbish and make it more livable for internally displaced persons who are stuck in the area.

Those who attempt to flee the city face booby traps, snipers, and hidden land mines. It’s impossible to fathom, but many families are currently seeking refuge in war-torn Syria, with about 5,000 people, mostly women and children, arriving at the Al Hol Camp from the Mosul area in the last 10 days, and at least 1,000 more are now massing at the border waiting to cross.

Rapid response distribution for new arrivals at a screening center in Salah ad Din province, Iraq. These trucks are loaded with boxes pre-positioned for newly expected arrivals from areas of conflict in the north as a result of the impending Mosul offensive. At least 150,000 people have been displaced so far and the offensive could force over 1 million people to flee their homes.
Rapid response distribution for new arrivals at a screening center in Salah ad Din province, Iraq.

If people do manage to escape, they also face an uncertain situation. At the moment camps are ready for only around 60,000 people — a tiny fraction of the up to 1 million people who could flee Mosul. The UN’s emergency appeal is still only half funded, but camps could be overwhelmed within days.

A new IDP family receiving their RRM kit: 1 Hygiene Kit, 1 dignity kit, 1 food kit and 2 containers of water.
A new family receiving their RRM kit: 1 Hygiene Kit, 1 dignity kit, 1 food kit and 2 containers of water.

Save the Children is calling for safe routes out of the city to be immediately identified and maintained, and cleared of deadly explosives. The safety of children must be made a priority.

Distribution in Salah ad Din province – trucks being readied to meet new arrivals at screening.
Distribution in Salah ad Din province – trucks being readied to meet new arrivals at screening.

Our teams are already seeing people making dangerous journeys to get out ahead of the offensive. Thousands of families are escaping the area around Hawija and at least 5,000 people have fled villages around Mosul and crossed into northeast Syria in the past week, and are living in desperate conditions across the border.

We are in the region working to provide emergency water supplies, dried food, soap and other items to newly displaced families. Learn more about our work in during this crisis and how you can help. 

“Bewildered and Covered in Blood.” Syria’s Children One Year After Alan Kurdi’s Death

11 year old boy from Syria
11-year-old Tamer fled Syria with his family. He now lives in a refugee camp in Lebanon.

September 5, 2016

On September 2nd, the one year anniversary of Alan Kurdi’s death, there was a lot of reflecting on what the world has done since to prevent such needless loss of life.

Many rightly conclude not nearly enough.

Almost 4,000 people have drowned since Alan’s death – over 3,000 of them this year alone – trying to reach European shores from Africa and the Middle East.

And for those who remain in Syria – the country Alan and his family died trying to flee from – there is utterly unthinkable suffering and despair.

Inside Syria

The situation in Syria right now is possibly the worst it has been since the conflict began over 5 years ago.

There are still around 250,000 children living in besieged areas across Syria. And the reports we’re receiving from our partners working to reach these children grow increasingly more tragic.

Donate to our Syria Crisis Appeal

We all saw the shocking images from Madaya at the start of the year. Skeletal children, pleading to be fed.

The town has been under siege by government forces and affiliated militias for more than a year. No aid has made it into Madaya since April and families are facing deadly shortages of food and medical supplies.

Yesterday we received a report from our partners that moved me to tears.

The situation has become so desperate, and children so emotionally and physically crushed, that medical staff say at least six children – the youngest a 12-year-old girl – and seven young adults have attempted suicide in the past two months, unable to cope with torturous conditions.

Escaping Syria

Even for those offered an escape route, such as the evacuation of Daraya last weekend, there are concerns for their safety and freedom of movement as they are transferred into shelters in government-held areas.

It shouldn’t require an entire community to leave their homes for families to get access to vital food, water and medical supplies.

There is a humanitarian imperative to ensure sustained and regular access for aid convoys to all besieged towns. But this continues to be denied.

Bombed school in Syria.
A Save the Children supported school in Syria that has been bombed.

One year on

Since Alan’s death, children continue to pay the price of this war.

The world was once again stunned at the image of Omran Daqneesh, the five-year-old boy from Aleppo, sitting bewildered in the ambulance, covered in blood and dust.

Aleppo is witnessing among the most extreme bombardment this crisis has seen.

Just this weekend our partners reported that 11 children have been killed by an airstrike, then as their grief-stricken community paid their respects to these young lives, their funeral was barrel bombed.

Other unverified reports suggest that in July alone, up to 340 children in Aleppo were injured by airstrikes and other-war related injuries and 101 died after being admitted to hospitals.

But where is the outcry?

The complete apathy around the Syria crisis is an insult to the thousands of children, like Alan, who have died as a result of this conflict in some shape of form.

At the weekend it seemed like some glimmer of hope might be there for the thousands of children trapped in Aleppo – Russia and the US agreed a path to get all parties around the table to discuss a 48-hour cease fire.

We all know that to make sure we can safely conduct effective and efficient humanitarian activities, the ceasefire for Aleppo must be extended beyond 48 hours, but this would be a welcome first step.

But one week on from this promise and we’ve seen no evidence that parties can agree to even this short pause in fighting. This is not acceptable.

 

Syria’s children cannot wait any longer.

Anniversaries of such tragic moments serve to remind us that we must do more to protect children in war. We should feel upset today, we should feel angry, but most of all we should demand action.

Donate to our Syria Crisis Appeal today.