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A two-year-old girl called Rana* lives with mother Elaha*, her father and 1-year-old brother Tariq*, in a refugee camp 55km away from Athens in Greece. They live in a temporary room inside an old warehouse. Winter has hit with full force in Greece with sub-zero temperatures and snowfall.
*name has been changed to protect identity.

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

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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.

Save the Children gives children in the United States and around the world a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We invest in childhood — every day, in times of crisis and for our future. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Make the world great for all of our children

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Originally published on thehill.com

In the weeks following the election, when many of the divisions in our nation have come to the forefront, it has become clear that we need to find ways to bring Americans of diverse viewpoints together around issues we all care about. A divided America will not be made great again no matter how much we might wish it to be unless we focus on the foundation of our future: our children.

In my work for Save the Children over the last 18 years, I have visited children and families in more than 80 countries and across dozens of states. The desire of parents to give their children a healthy and safe childhood and an education that helps them gain the skills they need to find jobs and happiness is something I have seen in all corners of the world. Whether living in a wealthy suburb in America, a poor rural town, or in a refugee camp in the Middle East, the biggest sacrifices parents and communities often make are for our children.

We have a lot of work to do for kids here in America. Visiting a literacy program in rural Mississippi this October, I met children struggling with basic reading but who were making progress thanks to extra support for books and technology and caring teachers and specialists. Yet one in four children in the United States never learns to read. That’s 25 percent of our future parents, leaders, and workers. According to the Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy, as of 2011, America was the only free-market OECD country where the current generation was less educated than the previous one. Schools in poor neighborhoods of the United States are, and have been for decades, woefully under-resourced with too few books, no access to computers, and where parents are unemployed, or are working far from home. Kids in these communities are working against long odds and we need to put funding into these schools and provide parents with paths to real employment.

A brighter future for America must mean a better future for our poorest kids. In Mississippi, I met families – white and black – living in the toughest conditions you can imagine in a state that voted solidly for Donald Trump. These are the families that are truly disenfranchised and hoping that change in the White House will bring better opportunities for their children.

Last month, I also visited Jordan, a country that has taken on an enormous number of refugees from the Syrian crisis. More than 650,000 Syrian refugees, half of them under the age of 18, are living in Jordan – in refugee camps, or in poor communities where residents are often struggling, too. Jordan is working hard to meet its international obligations to refugees from neighboring countries, and the United States provides significant foreign aid for refugee programs there. Funding is used to feed young refugee children, to provide them with a chance to get back into school after years of being away from home, and on vocational training for Syrian youth to give them hope for a productive future.

This funding from the United States is critical for a country in the Middle East like Jordan, on the frontlines of a refugee crisis and doing its best to meet its responsibilities, and which exists in a complicated neighborhood. It is also essential if we are to avoid a lost generation of young people who eventually can help put their country on a better path to the future. The good news is that the cost is tiny in relation to the overall federal budget, with all foreign assistance to all countries of the world adding up to less than 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget. When I speak with Americans, they agree that programs for young Syrian refugees is one of the right things – and the smart things – on which to spend our small foreign assistance budget. They often donate to our work as private citizens, adding to the funding from the U.S. government to make those dollars go further.

There will always be people trying to divide humanity up into various formations of “us” and “them” – whether by race, nationality, class or geography. But in my work, I’ve seen people break down these barriers in the interests of children. We can help children both in the United States and around the world, and we must. A focus on making America – and the world – great again for every last child would be a lasting legacy for the new administration and something around which we could all support proudly. To make a safe and secure future for us all, we need not choose “our” children over “other” children. Many stand ready to help on this effort that unifies us rather than divides us, as parents and as humans.

How to Save the Children of Mosul

November 20, 2016. Qayyarah, Iraq. Children stand in the back of a truck as their family prepares to return home from Qayyarah Jad’ah camp.
Children stand in the back of a truck as their family prepares to return home from Qayyarah Jad’ah camp in Qayyarah, Iraq on Nov. 20, 2016.

                                  Originally published on time.com

The Mosul offensive continues—both militarily and in terms of help for civilians—but it is not too soon to help the region’s children start to recover from years of suffering. As Iraqi forces enter Mosul, they are not only faced with ISIS militants but also up to 1.5 million civilians still trapped, including about 600,000 children, who are growing increasingly desperate. In the short term, safe routes must be established so these families can escape the violence. We risk another Aleppo, where civilians are trapped inside a warzone, if safe passage is not possible.

As thousands of families flee and others are caught in the crossfire or by snipers and landmines, children must urgently be protected. However, in the long run, we will fail Mosul if we are unable to help a whole generation of children recover from the violence, uncertainty and lack of schooling that they have faced in recent years.

Thousands of babies were born in Mosul in 2003 and 2004 as the war in Iraq was taking place and fighting raged in the city. Now in their early teens, these children have lived the vast majority of their lives in a state of uncertainty.

By 2008, when these children should have been starting kindergarten, armed militants were using the city as their strategic center of gravity—a hub for funding and violence. UNICEF reported at least one-third of children in Mosul were out of school. Even as active conflict subsided, it remained a dangerous place to be a child. In December of that year, a bomb detonated outside a primary school as students were leaving for the day, killing three children and injuring 18.

The situation grew even direr in 2014 when ISIS invaded the city—just as children born in 2003 should have been finishing primary school. The group took control of schools, burned textbooks and instituted a new extreme curriculum. Children were to be drilled in lessons on ISIS doctrine. The curriculum was also militarized and encouraged children to fight and learn how to use weapons.

More than one million children who have been living under ISIS in Iraq have either been out of school or forced to learn from an ISIS curriculum. Many parents refused to send their children to school out of fear for their safety and well-being. Other families had to make the difficult decision to flee their homes to escape violence and intimidation and are now living in camps or non-camp settings that don’t always have educational opportunities for young people.

Now, with the offensive to retake Mosul underway, Save the Children staff positioned in nearby camps report meeting families with children who have escaped the fighting and who say their children are getting sick from breathing air filled with smoke from oil wells that ISIS set on fire. Many have already lost loved ones and they are dehydrated and hungry from long journeys made on foot as they flee ISIS-held areas.

Mahmoud, a father we met, recently escaped Shura, south of Mosul. As fighting approached the village, he and his family were taken deeper into ISIS territory, where they were reportedly forcing people to act as human shields. The family escaped and is now in a temporary camp.

“I have four daughters. Before IS the older ones were going to school and loved it,” he said. “When IS took over, the content of the curriculum changed, so we stopped sending them. Every lesson became militarized. Even math lessons—they would teach the children ‘one bullet plus one bullet equals two bullets.’ They’ve now been out of school for two years.”

We know from our work in Iraq and other conflict zones that getting children back into school is absolutely critical. Being in a classroom setting provides a child with a sense of normalcy that they miss during times of conflict or displacement. Trained teachers can help students process the trauma they have experienced, and a quality education can help young people acquire the knowledge, tolerance, and critical thinking skills necessary to help rebuild their country and make a constructive contribution to society.

The government of Iraq and international partners can show their commitment to education in Iraq in four ways:

For those families who have already fled or who are desperately trying to, children need to be provided with quality education and psycho-social support inside camps established for internally displaced people and refugees. Save the Children is establishing temporary learning places in tents in one of the camps where people have fled, but much more is needed.

The Iraqi government should also work with international partners to reopen schools in retaken areas as soon as it is safe to do so. Repairs to schools should be prioritized, and school buildings should only be used for classes, not by the military.

Additionally, special attention needs to be given to children who have been forced to serve as child soldiers. They need extra help to make up for time lost in the classroom, tools to regain their self-confidence, and assistance reducing stigmas that might exist in their communities.

Finally, make sure that all Iraqi children can go to school. Iraq was once a country where more than 90% of children were in education, but it now has about 3.5 million children out of school. Donors must ensure that the UN’s 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan is fully funded—at the moment education has only 40% of the funding it requires.

Securing Mosul is crucial, but unless we include education in the immediate recovery plan, it will be almost impossible to build a prosperous city and region. Children of Mosul have suffered for many years and have missed out on enough of their childhoods. Getting them back into a safe positive school environment is critical to starting the recovery process, giving them hope for the future and breaking the cycle of suffering in Mosul.

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 world’s fastest-growing population needs our help

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Originally published on devex.com

One hundred and ninety-three countries are represented at the United Nations General Assembly this week. Another, despite having a population larger than the United Kingdom, lacks an ambassador, a foreign minister, or a president to advocate for it.

Given that, leaders gathering in New York for UNGA have an obligation to make sure that the world’s 65 million forcibly displaced people — a population large enough to form the 21st largest country — are protected, provided with quality education and health services, and given access to jobs. Empty promises will not be enough.

The scale of the problem has never been this large. In 1945, the United Nations was created to mitigate and prevent conflicts such as World War II, which had left tens of millions dead and caused more than 40 million men, women and children to become refugees.

Landmark documents such as the 1951 Refugee Convention were drafted to define who is a refugee and to which rights such people are entitled. Signed by 145 countries, the convention was designed to protect those forced to flee until they could go home or be resettled in a new country.

Fifteen years of war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere have shown that the post-World War II system is taxed, and many of the assumptions under which it was created no longer hold true. Today, millions are forcibly displaced by violence, to say nothing of the millions of other “survival migrants” who are forced from their homes due to climate change, economic conditions, or hunger that threaten their lives and the lives of their children. For many, displacement last years or becomes permanent.

It is time to acknowledge that protracted conflicts and the displacement they create require new ways of thinking and problem-solving. Nothing illustrates this need as clearly as looking at how the world’s 21st Largest Country would compare to actual countries in terms of economic opportunity, education, health and other development indicators.

The results show both the challenges faced by refugees and internally displaced people and the contributions they could make if given a chance and the tools to succeed. In a new report, Save the Children conducted this analysis, and found the following:

The 21st Largest Country is the fastest-growing in the world, expanding by 9.75 percent in the past year. At this rate, the population would become the world’s fifth largest by 2030. Such growth demonstrates the scale of conflicts around the world as well as the urgent need for governments and the aid community to help millions of people in crisis.

Children in the 21st Largest Country are being held back compared to children in other countries. According to UNHCR, only 50 percent of refugee children attend primary school — one of the worst school attendance rates in the world, behind only Liberia, Eritrea and South Sudan. In terms of health, the leading causes of death for refugee children under 5 are preventable and treatable illnesses: pneumonia and malaria. We also know that child marriage tends to be most common in communities facing crisis, because parents often see it as a way to shield their children from poverty and exploitation. Data on child marriage among refugees and displaced people is not readily available, though we do know that early marriage among Syrian refugee girls in Jordan rose from 12 percent in 2011 to 32 percent in 2014 — an alarming 167 percent increase over three years.

The global refugee crisis is one of the central issues at this year United Nations General Assembly gathering, including at private sector forums highlighting the role of business to address the challenge.

The frustrating thing about this is that there could be positive news for displaced children if political leaders chose to address these issues. Efforts to increase access to education, improve health, and lower rates of child marriage have been successful when there is the political will and financial resources to do so.

We also determined that the 21st Largest Country could have the world’s 54th largest economy, having calculated the collective value of forgone production among refugees and internally displaced people. Displaced people want to work, to support their families and provide a future for their children. The figure represents an opportunity for countries who understand the benefit of increasing their human capital and growing their economies.

I have met with refugee families from all over the world, most recently in Germany and Connecticut. Just like citizens of actual countries, people in the 21st Largest Country are a diverse group in terms of ethnicity, socioe-conomic status, religion and political opinions. But regardless of how a family got to Tempelhof refugee camp in Berlin or under what circumstances they resettle in the United States, everyone I have spoken to wants educational opportunities for their children and to be a contributing member of the society in which they live.

Now is the time for leaders to commit to new and greater help for refugees and the countries that host them. Three actions are most important to help families and children:

First, leaders should commit to have no refugee child out of school for more than 30 days after crossing an international border. Children want to be in school. In a survey we recently conducted of Syrian and Afghan refugee children in Norway, nearly 4 in 10 said education was their top priority, compared with needs such as water and shelter. Quality education not only helps children process the violence and trauma they have often experienced in their home countries and on their journey to safety, it also helps them develop skills they will need to be productive members of society.

Government leaders and the private sector also need to commit to increasing job opportunities for refugees. Jobs promote self-reliance and address the role that poverty plays in perpetuating harmful practices such as child marriage and exploitation in informal employment.

Finally, governments, NGOs, and the private sector need to work to increase humanitarian funding and ensure that money for development projects can also be used to address the education, health and protection needs of displaced people.

One year ago, leaders committed to making the Sustainable Development Goals a reality by 2030. This week, states pledged to help refugees and migrants at two high-level summits. Commitments now need to be translated into action in order to prevent life from getting worse for families and children in the 21st Largest Country.

One year after Alan Kurdi photo, the moral test of a generation

The body of a 2-year-old boy who washed ashore in Turkey was identified as Alan Kurdi, seen here, left, with his brother, Galip, who also drowned. The boys and their mother, Rehen, died during a treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea in September 2015 to escape war-torn Syria. The boys' aunt, Tima Kurdi, who lives in Canada, posted this image to Facebook.

Originally published on CNN.com

Every week last summer news of refugees streaming into Europe dominated global headlines. Yet it wasn’t until September 2, one year ago, that the world reacted in horror to the image of Alan Kurdi — the 3-year-old Syrian toddler who drowned trying to escape a war that was older than he was — dead on a beach in Turkey.

Like the photo of the naked girl burning from napalm during the Vietnam War or images of starving children in Ethiopia in 1984, would Alan’s photo prompt action by world leaders to end the suffering that has caused millions of people to risk their lives in search of safety?

Sadly, the answer so far is no, and the world must do better. Since Alan died, more than 4,000 mothers, fathers, sons and daughters have died trying to make a similar journey across the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration. The situation is so dire that Save the Children, an organization for children in need, is launching a search and rescue boat to prevent children from drowning as they try to get to Italy from Africa. Globally, during the same period, the International Organization for Migration estimates that more than 6,000 migrants died attempting to find a better life.

How will history reflect on our lack of action?

Just last week, humanitarian organizations including Save the Children called for a 48-hour ceasefire in Aleppo, Syria, to allow for aid and food to reach the families under siege. That’s a first step, but political solutions to end fighting in Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan and elsewhere must remain the goal to bring about peace and to ensure that another generation of children doesn’t grow up surrounded by constant violence.

The reality is that even when such solutions do develop, not everyone who has left can or will go home. Some still do not feel safe returning. For others, their land or home is gone. For others still, there is no reason to go home because they have been permanently resettled in their new home country — earning a living, integrating into local communities and making economic and civic contributions.

Regardless of why people left and whether or not they can return, there are three steps we can take to improve the lives of displaced people the world over.
First, we need to continue to support countries at the front lines of the crisis with immediate needs. I just returned from Berlin, where I met with refugee families. They told me that the majority of their basic needs such as food and shelter are covered, but their biggest concern is their children’s future. Nearly every family I’ve spoken with says the main reason they fled their country is so their children could have an education and a childhood.

Another example is Lebanon — a small country where more than 25% of the population is refugees. This country has taken in families in their time of need, but they need additional funding from the international community for extra shifts at school so more children can access quality education, vocational training and cash subsidies to avoid a rise in child labor.

Second, as leaders prepare to meet in New York for the UN General Assembly, they should commit to the principle that no refugee child should be out of school for more than 30 days. Given what these children have been through, we need to focus on more than just their immediate physical needs.

 

After basic needs are met, few things are more beneficial than an education to help a child recover from the psychological trauma of violence. Learning inside a classroom helps children gain skills that enable them to become productive members of society and embrace a future of hope, not one overshadowed by the false promises of extremism.

Finally, we need to change the negative and generalized way that we think about the 65.3 million people worldwide who are currently forcibly displaced. They are individuals who would collectively make up the 21st-largest country in the world, with a population larger than Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania combined. They come from all races, religions, professions and more than 150 countries.

Many have experienced or witnessed violence on a scale that most Americans cannot fathom. Each has a family and has had to leave a job and oftentimes a home. We need to understand that those displaced are people with great potential.

President Barack Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees is just 18 days away. This fall will also see the election of the ninth UN secretary-general and elections in more than 20 countries. It is time for the world to step up and make a greater commitment to help refugees, help the countries who host them and give refugee children a future they can believe in.
Farah*, 12.    Farah* features in the photo 'Child Labour' by Patrick Willocq. Many Syrian children in the Anjar Refugee Camp in Lebanon are forced to work to help support their families. 

Farah* works in a field close to Anjar removing bad crops in the middle of a field. This means she has to miss school most of the time because she has to support her family. She works long hours in the hot sun often bending down or on her hands and knees removing bad parsley and sometimes picking potatoes. She complains that the work hurts her back, she gets regular headaches and there is no water provided. The camp leader gets paid $11 per day and only gives her $8 and he saves the money for her only getting paid once per year.  

She and her sister do not go to school as they are have to work to support their seven sisters and two brothers. There father stayed in Syria to work, so now they are the only breadwinners for the family as their mother has to stay at home and look after the young children. 

Farah* says:

"Every day my job is like this: I take the weeding fork and weed among the cabbage or the parsley. I take out the weeds with the knife. We bend down; we take out the weeds then pull up the soil.

"What makes me very tired is that I have to keep bending down. When we try to stand up they ask us to bend down. So, we spend around three or four hours bending; then at breakfast, we take a fifteen-minute break. We spend the whole day like this."

The End of a School Year that Never Began

downloadIf your children are like mine, June is filled with excitement for the end of the school year and the prospect of a summer of fun. My daughter just graduated from 8th grade and I remember well the excitement of my older sons when summer rolled around.  But for the 3.2 million refugee children around the world who are out of school, they can only dream of being in a classroom. Their school year is not ending, because sadly it never began.

Refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than other children. Over the summer, Save the Children will be pushing hard to ensure that every last refugee child has access to education and is learning.

Education sets children up for success, provides hope and opportunities for the future, as well as a sense of stability and normalcy for those who are overcoming traumatic events. It also prepares children with the skills needed to rebuild and help develop their home countries if and when they return.

It’s crucial that no refugee child is out of school for more than one month after having had to flee their home in search of safety. While that may seem like a tall order to some, there is no technical or financial reason that the international community cannot come together to make this principle happen.

Equally sad, tens of thousands of children around the world, if not more, will likely spend their summer fleeing conflict, be it on foot through the desert, in a rickety boat for hundreds of miles across the Mediterranean or Andaman Sea, or stuffed in the back of a crowded truck by human traffickers. This year alone, nearly 3,000 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean, and we are hearing reports that 34 people, including 20 children, were found dead in the Sahara desert just last week. In 2015, nearly 400 people died in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, not by drowning but because of starvation, disease and abuse by smugglers.

3-year-old Syrian girl Salwa* puts her shoes on with the help of her mother before the leaves her tent to go outside and play with her friends. Additional Information In response for the winter storms that are hitting Lebanon Save the Children staff members in Bekaa valley, in the the eastern side of Lebanon visited refugees and offered them weatherproofing kits. Plastic sheets and wooden timbers were also distributed to help refugees support their tents.
3-year-old Syrian girl Salwa* puts her shoes on with the help of her mother before the leaves her tent to go outside and play with her friends.

We need to work harder to ensure that children on the move are better protected. Girls and boys who are forced to leave their homes, sometimes separated from their families, are at significant risk of abuse and exploitation. Such long and dangerous journeys also negatively impact children’s physical and mental health. Focusing on education and counseling can make all the difference.

Too often refugees are thought of in the abstract. Today, on World Refugee Day, it is critical to remember that refugees are people like you and me. They have had to leave their homes, and everything they know, in search of safety and security. These people are struggling through unthinkable circumstances, and deserve the same rights, protections, and respect as we all expect.

I will always remember a visit to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan a few years ago near the start of the Syrian conflict.  When I asked a 15-year-old boy there, one who had been a star student at home in Syria, what his future held, he told me, “I have no future”.  It’s not what we should hear from a 15-year-old boy.

We need negotiated political solutions to the multiple conflicts forcing families to flee their homes, from Syria to South Sudan. But for the child who is 10 years old yet has never been to school, the dream is simply safety for her family and to attend school. World leaders, aid organizations and private corporations who care about our future can and must do more to make that dream a reality.

If These Syrian Kids’ Drawings Don’t Move You, What Will?

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This post originally appeared in the Global Post.

 

After World War II, we said never again. But today, five years after the conflict began, hundreds of thousands of Syrians — mostly women and children — are suffering in what some refer to as “death camps.” People are living in communities cut off from the outside world by armed groups. Food, water, medicine and electricity are scarce. Schools, homes and hospitals are being bombed.

 

Put yourself in the shoes of a mother who watched her malnourished infant die in her arms because she wasn’t allowed to cross a security checkpoint. Imagine the fear a young child feels as his school is bombed and he sees his friends killed. Hungry children are waiting hours in line for bread. These are stories our team is hearing as we talk with those who have survived so far, and they were included in our new report, “Childhood Under Siege.”

 

drawing 2

 

While it is hard to hear these stories of what it is like in Syria, and to see images of children who have died on the beaches while seeking safety, we owe it to the children to listen and not turn our eyes and ears away.

 

Consider what it’s like for 5-year-olds in Syria who have known nothing but war. An entire generation could either be killed, or experience a lifetime of hardship due to psychological damage and lack of an education. According to a September 2015 report from Germany’s chamber of psychotherapists, 40 percent of Syrian children who found safety had witnessed violence. More tragic still, 26 percent had to watch family members being attacked.

 

Yet, there is hope with the first-ever break in fighting, which started recently, and the peace talks that began in Geneva this week.

 

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Just like several decades ago, there are heroes risking their lives to help children and their families. Aid organizations are delivering food, water, and clothing, and are providing safe places to learn and play both inside Syria and throughout Europe where children have found refuge.

 

At Milan’s Central Station Mezzanine for Syrian children, a popular transit hub for families awaiting passage to northern Europe, children were encouraged to draw how they felt about home, war, and their journeys to safety. Our colleagues who were with these children sent us photos of these pictures.

 

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It was heartbreaking to see the children draw images of war that included bombs and people lying in puddles of red ink. But at the same time, I felt hopeful looking at the drawings of their homes in Syria, which included sunshine, playgrounds, smiling faces, and blue skies.

 

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The drawings were analyzed by Vitorria Ardino, President of the Italian Society for the Study of Traumatic Stress. She said, “Although many of the drawings depict fear and terror, there is also an element of hope for the future and gratitude for the help received.”

 

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While the war is complicated and world leaders work on a solution to end the fighting, one of the most important things we can do is to help Syria’s children continue their education. This conflict has starved millions of young minds, and that must stop now. Making sure that Syrian children are learning is not only the right thing to do, it also protects children and youth from being exploited by child labor, early marriage, and recruitment by armed groups. This creates a safer, brighter world for all of us.

 

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Last month, world leaders, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, agreed to mobilize funds to educate refugee children in Lebanon and Jordan as part of a broader United Nations appeal for Syria. This is a big step in the right direction.

 

We must tell our representatives to continue the positive momentum, and support the essential role education plays in returning the country to stability, and rebuilding society. And we must continue to support aid groups. We know we can’t be the ones to stop the war, but we can stop children from dying from malnutrition, provide a safe place to learn, and give them hope today. With our help, they have a chance at a brighter future. Syria, and all of us quite frankly, cannot afford a lost generation. The time to act is now.

 

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A People with No Place

The five mothers sitting on plastic chairs beside me were decidedly cool while I sweated in the heat that was building, even on what was a relatively cool Myanmar morning.  They were dressed in beautiful saris and long, colorful skirts and headscarves, and smiled widely in welcome.  Through translation from English to Burmese to a local dialect of Arabic, I explained I had come from the US to visit the Save the Children program here in this camp for internally displaced families and wanted to hear their stories… stories of how they came to be in a teeming, dirty camp only six miles from their homes in the nearby town.  Homes they had not seen now for more than three years—homes that no longer existed after they were forced to leave.

 

One by one, they told me about their lives before – as a rice trader, a bicycle repair shop owner, and one lady whose livelihood was the family coconut mat and bamboo shop.  Several were at home with young children. They described a past life of simple pleasures and peace, room for their children to grow up and a decent school for them to attend. Although all of them were poor, they worked hard to have enough to send their children to school, get medical help when needed, and make sure they had a childhood. That was before, what they call, “the events.”

 

Inside the camp, much of that life was gone.  These mothers were no longer allowed to work and support their children.  They survived now on aid – food rations, informal education and very basic medical services provided by donors from their and other governments, and delivered by agencies like Save the Children.  Basic bamboo and tin shelters jammed together along a deeply rutted road was now home for these families, and tens of thousands of others. Blog

 

Hamida described how the only way she could continue to provide nutritious food for her four children was to take part of the dry ration of beans that was meant for her and sell it to buy a few vegetables and eggs.  She was struggling to keep her eldest in school, a daughter she adopted in the camp when the girl’s mother died in pregnancy, and was determined to get her into the 1st grade and beyond. Kahin Mer Cho had a 3-year-old and a 5-month-old, both born in the camp, both born at home.  She described her intense fear when her first child was born—at that time there wasn’t access to medical services in the camp and she worried something would go wrong.  She told me even today there are others not as lucky as she was, who were losing children and losing their own lives in childbirth.

 

Another mother, speaking quietly, described how she had to take her oldest, a girl who had gotten through the 6th grade, out of school because she could not afford the very basic supplies for her to stay.  When I asked if she had a plan for her daughter, she said she wanted to get her some training, perhaps in sewing with a machine, but the teenagers are not allowed to leave the camp so she now stayed at home and helped with household chores.

 

As I listened to these stories of life before and life now I was struck by the intense impact on these mothers – but mostly on their children. If things don’t change, a whole generation will grow up here in this camp.  Despite the incredibly hard work of my colleagues at Save the Children and many others, these children will have limited educations, suffer from high rates of malnutrition and stunting, with many girls being married off early and having children while they are still children themselves.  Sadly, some families will give their children up to traffickers to get them out of the camps, a situation that most likely will lead to horrific exploitation.

 

The reason for the violence against these mothers, the hatred that forced them and their families from their homes, burning everything they ever had, is a complicated one.  In my short time in Rakhine I could only get a shallow understanding of century old tensions between the Buddhist and the Muslims that caused the flares of violence over three years ago now.  Violence that has added hundreds of thousands of people in Myanmar to the global flood of displaced people – the largest since World War II.

 

I would not begin to tell you I understand the deeper issues and history.  But I do understand the suffering I saw in the children I met in the camps.  No child deserves to have their future taken away and all children have the right to a decent education, to survive and to thrive and to be protected from abuse. And every mother’s heart is broken when she can’t provide it.

 

The hope is in the new government here in Myanmar, one just forming and still struggling to lead.  A government built on the foundations of democracy, rule of law and basic rights for all, with leadership that also lived through those things being taken away. The five moms I sat with in that dusty camp need access to those things just like every other person in Myanmar.  There are many on both sides working toward that goal, and it will take care and time, but the futures of the children I met should not be the price to pay to get there.

 

The Warning Bell Has Rung: Will the World Hear It?

The tiny boy’s chest rose and fell fast as he lay on the thin mattress of the hospital bed, his grandmother by his side. As I watched him struggle, I asked the doctor looking over him what was wrong. His diagnosis was severe malnutrition complicated by a serious case of pneumonia. Pneumonia kills more children under 5 than any other single disease in Ethiopia and, layered on top of a case of severe malnutrition, Mohammed’s little life hung precariously in the balance on the day I met him. This was his second visit to the district hospital in the last few months and his mother and grandmother had traveled over 100 miles to get him there. He is one of 400,000 children in Ethiopia now suffering from severe malnutrition due to lack of food caused by the worst drought in 50 years.

 

In the United States, El Niño is causing warm spells in the Northeast, flooding in the Midwest and forest fires in California—but its severity and duration this year is wreaking havoc on Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa and threatening tremendous progress made over the last 25 years. Ethiopia is a country I often hold up as an example of what can be done, especially with strong government leadership and partners. Ethiopia has reduced child mortality by two thirds, meeting that element of the Millennium Development Goals several years even before the 2015 target; the vast majority of Ethiopian children are enrolled in primary school; and the country’s innovative health system serves families through clinics in even the poorest communities with more than 30,000 health workers supported by the government. Governments and partners invested in an early warning system that monitors rainfall and soil moisture, which rang the alarm in mid-2015 that a drought was imminent. But alarm bells don’t do much good—and won’t save children’s lives—if no one listens to them.

 

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I met several struggling families on my trip to the Amhara and Afar regions of Ethiopia this week. For many, their cattle had died or been sold off for half their value due to lack of food for the animals. Almost 80% of the population is dependent on rain-fed agriculture, so the failure of three successive rainy seasons has left families with no crops to sell or to eat. Now they are receiving monthly rations and children are slipping from moderately malnourished to severely so, every day. Children have started dropping out of school because they must instead walk for hours to collect the scarce water that is available.

 

The Government of Ethiopia has mounted a strong response to the drought, vowing that they won’t see the suffering of 1984 repeated. Governments like the US, Norway and the U.K. have also stepped up aid to Ethiopia to provide food, water, animal feed and health services like treatment for malnutrition through Save the Children and other organizations on the ground. But many others haven’t. The sheer scale of the drought means more resources—food and money—must be mobilized now, both from those who have already given and especially from those who have not. There’s no time for delay.

 

I left the Dubti Hospital that day with the very real worry that Mohammed might not make it through his tremendous struggle against pneumonia and malnutrition. But thankfully he was receiving the medical support he needed. At the same time hundreds of thousands of others were struggling just like him that day, and each day since, often without food or access to medical care.

 

The warning bell has sounded—we cannot be deaf to it. We cannot wait for more children to suffer before we are moved to act.