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. 

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

Save the Children Statement on U.S. Executive Order on Suspension of Refugee Resettlement

Media Contact
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FAIRFIELD, Conn. (January 26, 2017)

In response to executive action by the United States Government regarding refugee resettlement, Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children, released the following statement:

“The United States has long been a beacon of hope for the millions of children and families trying to escape war and persecution. The world is facing its largest crisis of displaced people since World War II, with more than 65 million people forced to flee their homes. More than half of all refugees are children, whose only chance for survival and a better future relies on access to safety. We all have a moral obligation to help. Refugee children have been terrorized; they are not terrorists.

“I have met with hundreds of refugee families—in the U.S., Germany, and throughout the Middle East and Africa. I have heard firsthand their stories of unrelenting war, and triumph over incredible hardship that no one should have to endure. Nearly every family I’ve met has told me that their main reason for fleeing was so their children could have a childhood, an education, and a chance at a future. Now is not the time to turn our back on these families, or our core American values, by banning refugees. We can protect our citizens without putting even more barriers in front of those who have lost everything and want to build a better future in America.

“The reality is that the U.S. refugee resettlement program saves lives—namely of women and children under 12, who make up 77 percent of the Syrian refugees in the U.S.—while helping to ensure the safety of our country. Refugees already go through extensive vetting: a refugee’s identity is checked against law enforcement and intelligence databases of at least five federal agencies, a process that takes nearly two years. If there is any doubt about who a refugee is, he or she is not admitted to the United States. Save the Children takes no issue with proposals to further perfect the vetting process to protect our nation’s safety, but we must remember that resettling refugees reinforces our security by supporting key allies that are disproportionately affected by forced displacement.

“The United States should continue to show leadership and share in our global responsibility to provide refuge to the most vulnerable, regardless of religion or nationality. Welcoming refugees sends a strong message to groups that want to do us harm: the United States remains a leading pillar for stability and liberty in the world.

“Since its founding in 1919, Save the Children has worked tirelessly to help millions of refugee children and families—providing lifesaving assistance, improving access to education and quality healthcare, and protecting children from exploitation. We are committed to continuing this vital work, regardless of ethnicity, religion or any other factor.”

To help us support refugee children and families, click here.

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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.

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. 

Steps to Achieve SDG4 for #EveryLastChild

by Coco Lammers

a picture of Masa 03 March 16. Ahmad Baroudi/Save the Children

This is Masa. When Masa was one year old, her family was forced to flee their home country of Syria for Turkey. Today, Masa is five years old, an age when many children around the world go to school. She is among the 1 million Syrian refugee children living in neighboring countries who are not in school.

In most cases, it will take years for a refugee girl like Masa to get the chance to go to school. Even after an immediate crisis ends, if a family has the chance to return home, infrastructure is often weak and the government has a difficult time establishing funding, policies, and procedures to get the national education system on track. Teachers may not get paid for months, classrooms are crowded, materials are nonexistent, communities are afraid to send their children back to school due to safety, and governments only pay attention to whether kids attend classes, not whether they are actually learning. If the family stays in another country, it could take years for them to matriculate into the schools, if they ever do.

In 2014, a UNESCO report revealed that around 250 million children around the world are in school but not learning the basics. The result is a global learning crisis. In 2015, after the completion of the 2000-2015 Millennium Development Goals, all governments adopted an ambitious development agenda for the year 2030 that sets out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As a response to the global learning crisis, Goal 4 of the SDGs (SDG4) is focused on ensuring access to quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Achieving ’education for all’ and ensuring ‘no one is left behind’, key pledges made by all governments in the SDGs, will be particularly difficult in conflict affected and fragile states. Last year, a Save the Children report revealed that the countries furthest behind in achieving the MDGs were not the least developed countries, but were countries affected by crisis, conflict, or fragility. According to the World Bank, people in conflict-affected and fragile states are more than three times as likely to be unable to send their children to school as those in other developing countries.

So, how do we ensure that all children, no matter who they are or where they live, are in school and learning?

Step 1: Data

  • Countries, at the national and subnational level, need to identify the most excluded children.  Then they need to make a public commitment to produce more and better data that shows where the gaps are and enable targeting of resources towards the most excluded groups.  Governments must work with researchers to collect disaggregated data and to ensure consistency, allowing data to be compared across countries, regions, and at the global level.
  • There should be commitment among donors to ensure that there is a minimal level of data collected in all countries. This “data floor” is especially critical for countries affected by crisis and conflict who have the worst track record on data collection. Education must be a part of the data floor.
  • Data must be disaggregated at a minimum by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability and geographic location, common differentiators for development progress, so that patterns and trends in educational inequity can be identified and plans can be implemented to ensure that these groups see progress first, not last.
  • Governments must set national interim equity targets for specific groups to monitor progress toward SDG4 and to ensure the most marginalized and excluded children, including refugees and internally displaced children, are learning and on track to meet SDG4 targets.
  • The international community must encourage citizen-led data collection, expand access to and transparency of existing data resources, and build local capacity for data use and analysis in order to drive change from the ground up.

Step 2: Accountability

  • Governments and international bodies must establish effective, inclusive and participatory accountability mechanisms at all levels to help ensure that progress is being made on SDG4.
  • Donors and developing countries alike need to make a commitment to find more and better funding for education and SDG implementation.
  • Global resources should be focused on countries where progress on SDG4 will be most challenging, including in countries affected by crisis, conflict, and fragility.
  • Civil society and other stakeholders, including young people, need to continue to push for and engage in effective governance structures and accountability mechanisms to ensure progress on SDG4.
  • Donors, oversight bodies, and non-governmental organizations need to use the data collected on SDG4 to push for greater accountability, follow-up, and review of the SDGs at all levels.

As advocates, we need both courage and persistence to keep the momentum going on this equitable learning agenda. It will take hard work and sustained attention to ensure that even when contexts change, crisis strikes, or stability is threatened that young girls like Masa and all children, regardless of their background and circumstances, are able to go to school and learn.

In 2030, Masa will be 19 years old. Imagine what a quality education and lifelong learning could do for her generation. The possibilities for her and millions of other children just like her are endless.

Learn more about Education in Emergencies.

Coco Lammers is the Manager of Global Development, Policy, and Advocacy for Save the Children

Photo Credit: 03 March 16. Ahmad Baroudi/Save the Children

This post originally appeared on The Global Campaign for Education.

Refugee Baby Triumphs Against the Odds in Greece

sandySandy Maroun

Humanitarian Media and Communications Manager

Save the Children in Greece

August 11, 2016

As Khadji* welcomes me into her tent, she asks me to have a seat on the ground and she places her little sleeping baby Bikas* on a makeshift bed. The bed is constructed with a slab of iron, supported with iron stakes and covered with blankets.

I ask Khadji if this is the baby’s bed. She gives me a small nod and says he sleeps anywhere in the tent – they don’t have any other options.

As I look at Bikas, I reflect on the babies being born and raised in refugee camps in Greece – what impact will this have on their health and development? Will they still be in these camps when they turn one? Two? I can’t help but wish Bikas had a quiet room and a comfortable cradle to sleep in, just like millions of other babies around the world. RS122172_Bikas4

Once Bikas is settled, 25-yearold Khadji tells me her story. She speaks about the war and insecurity she and her husband and young children witnessed at home in Iraq, the shelling and the persecution by armed groups. She also tells me about the perilous journey from Turkey to Greece on a shaky, inflatable boat while she was pregnant with Bikas. Khadji reveals she was unsure that they would survive. She was terrified of losing her children in the sea, like so many mothers before her.

Khadji also tells me about her son’s birth. On a warm night in the middle of June in the refugee camp, Khadji started to feel contractions that got stronger and closer together. At first she thought they were passing contractions just like other ones she had before earlier in June. However, as they intensified, she knew she was going to deliver that night. As her husband was looking for a way to transport her to the hospital, Khadji said she felt lonely and fearful. She had no family around her: no mother to comfort her and assure her that everything will be fine, no sister to wipe her sweaty face or father to support her to get to the hospital.

When finally she arrived at the hospital, her husband at her side, they found out the delivery was complicated and Khadji had to undergo a painful and long caesarian section. Not only that, her new baby Bikas was suffering from tachycardia, an abnormally fast heart rate and was only 1.5 kilograms. He had to be hospitalized for ten days. Khadji told me how worried she was that Bikas wouldn’t survive.

Bikas did survive. But Khadji was not able to breastfeed him while he was in hospital and he wasn’t putting on weight quickly enough.

Breastfeeding is the best option to ensure babies receive the nutrients they need to survive, grow and develop. But, breastfeeding is challenging in a refugee camp as mothers live in a stressful environment and face social and economic hardship. They lack a private, quiet and relaxing space to breastfeed and spend quality time with their babies allowing them to create a bond with them.

Khadji tells me how determined she was to breastfeed Bikas following his recovery and discharge from hospital. She then explains how she visited Save the Children’s Mother and Baby Area in her camp in search of assistance. Save the Children’s team helped Khadji to start breastfeeding again.

“A container with milk was attached to a tube which was taped to my breast. So while Bikas was sucking my breast, he was getting milk from the tube. It helped me get my milk back,” Khadji explains.

RS122169_Bikas1She proudly tells me that it has been six weeks that she’s been breastfeeding Bikas several times a day and that she’s happy he now weighs 3.5 kilograms.

Save the Children’s nutrition programme in Greece supports mothers and their young children by providing a quiet, private and relaxing space to breastfeed babies, and advice and counselling on infant and young child feeding practices. Skilled counsellors also work with mothers having difficulties breastfeeding and help them continue to breastfeed.

I find Khadji’s awareness and determination remarkable. Despite the harshness of life in a refugee camp far from her home and family, Khadji is trying her hardest to breastfeed her baby and give him the best start in life.

I wonder about Khadji in a different setting. In a beautiful home raising her three young and healthy sons who go to school every day; living with her husband who has a stable job and who surrounds her and their children with care. Hopefully, one day soon, this will be Khadji’s reality.

To help us reach more mothers and babies like Khadji and Bikas, please donate to our Child Refugee Crisis Relief Fund. 

Save the Children’s nutrition program in Greece is funded by the United Nations Refugee Agency, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, Probitas and UBS.

*Name changed for protection

“We vaccinated children in sandstorms”: How Our Emergency Team Saves Lives

by Dr Nicholas Alusa

Save the children car in Kenya.

Our Emergency Health Unit in Kenya, working on cholera prevention.

Measles is a highly contagious, horrific disease. If left untreated, in a worst case scenario, it can lead to death.

There’s no specific treatment for measles: all that medics can do is isolate the sufferer, give them vitamin A, and hope for the best.

In high-income countries most people infected with the disease recover in a couple of weeks, very few die. But in developing countries it kills up to one in five.

A safe and cost-effective vaccine does exist.  But families in remote areas, in countries with weak health systems, struggle to access it.

An emergency unfolds

Mayom County, in rural northern South Sudan, is one such place. A remote population in a country whose infrastructure has been crippled by civil war, no children have received routine vaccinations here for over two years. In January a few suspected cases of measles appeared, scattered around the main town. By the end of February, the county was in the grip of a fully-blown outbreak.

Nearly three quarters of the cases were children. If someone didn’t act fast, a tragedy of enormous scale was on the horizon: tens of thousands of children were at risk.

Previously in situations like this, we would have to spend time pulling together teams of specialists and supplies – a delay that costs lives. But last year we revolutionized the way we get medical care to children in emergencies, when we launched the Emergency Health Unit.

The unit is made up of fully-formed, world-class teams of medics on standby all over the world, ready to deploy within hours – complete with equipment, supplies, and logistics experts like me with the skills to get everything where it’s needed quickly.

When you have pre-positioned supplies you don’t have to spend time initiating the supply chain process, raising a procurement form, searching for funds, finding suppliers who can take months…while children in emergencies wait. That’s why these kits are so important.

Transforming emergency care

As soon as we heard about the measles outbreak in South Sudan, my team was mobilized. Within two weeks of the outbreak being announced, we were on the ground vaccinating children in 18 clinics and 24 mobile outreach centers.

Tracking the population in South Sudan is difficult, especially since the outbreak of conflict and the huge movement of people it has caused. A rough estimate told us we could expect to vaccinate around 26,000 children. Three weeks later, we had vaccinated 44,447.

We linked up with local staff and infrastructure and worked with the community to raise awareness on our behalf and tell people we were here. Word spread quickly, and after receiving 60 children on the first day, numbers rapidly swelled to up to 400 daily. Reaching out to the community in this way is so important to our work in emergencies – we would never have reached as many children as we did without their help.

South Sudan sandstorm

The Emergency Health Unit team continued to treat children through sandstorms.

A medal of honor

The infrastructure in Mayom is poor – it’s difficult to reach this part of South Sudan, and many NGOs are reluctant to attempt healthcare here. We relied on an array of transport, including motorbikes and canoes, to reach the most remote communities. We travelled across rough, rugged terrain and collapsed bridges, and vaccinated children in the middle of sandstorms.

We hurried, carrying life-saving vaccines that melted at three times the normal speed in Mayom’s 40-degree heat in precious cool-boxes . All while wearing what my colleague Nathalie calls the ‘Mayom suit’: head-to-toe dust.

In one rural cattle ranch our team leader, Koki, was heavily spat on by an elderly man on our arrival. “Hey, what’s this?” Koki said at the time, wiping the slimy liquid from his forehead. It turned out this was a sign of appreciation from the old man, who in his lifetime had never seen any NGO reach his remote community. ‘’Being spat on by an old man signifies immense blessings bestowed upon Save the Children!’’ a local health official told us.

And this salivary medal of honor feels truly earned. It was an incredible achievement: in this most inhospitable of environments, we did whatever it took to protect the vulnerable children in this isolated part of the world. Our new system works: in just three weeks, 44,447 children were permanently saved from a potentially deadly fate. A catastrophe was averted.

Now – what’s next?

 

Nicholas Alusa Dr Nicholas Alusa is an experienced pharmacist and medical logistics expert working as part of our new Emergency Health Unit, a major change in our work. The Unit consists of immediately deployable teams containing the ideal combination of medical and operational specialists, strategically positioned in emergency hotspots around the world and fully equipped with the best tools for the job. We can deploy these teams in a matter of hours, putting them at a child’s side, giving them the treatment they need in those critical early stages of an emergency.