Ending the War on Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rohingya Children Need Support

1Evan Schuurman is part of Save the Children’s emergency response team in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Nine year old Shawkat* has a bandage wrapped around her head and vacant eyes that suggest her mind and body are worlds apart. I’ve never seen a child’s face look so empty.

Her uncle Ali, who cares for her now—despite her being the eleventh mouth he must feed— says she rarely speaks anymore. That is, until dusk each evening. That’s when the terror returns.

“She starts to cry and scream out for her mother,” Ali says. “During the day she’s ok, but everything changes at nightfall. She feels a lot of pain. She cannot sleep.”

I learn that Shawkat’s mother, father and three brothers were all killed by the Myanmar military forces. Her entire immediate family wiped out in a few minutes.

Soldiers entered their village in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State and opened fire, setting homes ablaze and killing indiscriminately. In the chaotic scramble for life, people fled into the jungle, including Shawkat. There was no time to take anything or save her family.

It was a brutal, planned massacre, says Ali, whose parents were murdered too.

Thankfully a group of villagers decided to take care of Shawkat. Carrying nothing but the clothes on their backs, they walked for days on end, up and down mountains and through driving rain.

Battered and bruised, they eventually made it to Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, which is now home to some 800,000 Rohingya, including over half a million who’ve arrived in the past seven weeks.

Most have taken refuge in the makeshift settlements less and an hours walk from the Naf River, which divides the two countries. They can still see the hills of Myanmar on the other side.

Ali tells me he searched everywhere for Shawkat, and eventually caught wind that she was in a local hospital. In a time of endless despair, this reunion was a rare joy.

The settlements themselves are a sight to behold. Once lush green hills have been stripped bare. Terraces have been cut into the clay to make space for more bamboo and plastic shelters. When it rains the ground turns into a series of muddy waterfalls, and dirty, contaminated water pools everywhere.

The roads inside the camps are a hive of activity, with large trucks plundering up and down carrying tonnes of aid. Shirtless men run large bundles of bamboo while lone children wander in search of food, money or something to do. Umbrellas are everywhere, protecting people from the harsh sun or heavy rains – it feels as though there’s nothing in-between.

This foreign place is Shawkat’s home for now, along with more than 300,000 other newly arrived Rohingya children, many of whom spend their days in a similar trauma-induced daze.

Over the past few weeks I have interviewed nearly two-dozen Rohingya women, men and children about what happened in Myanmar and what their lives have become in Bangladesh.

Every single one of them told similar stories of deadly attacks on villages and desperate escapes. The heartbreak is everywhere.

The interviews were raw and emotional. Women wept before my eyes as they recounted their relatives being killed and their homes being turned into a blaze of raging fire.

I’ve deployed to a lot of humanitarian crises over the past five years including places like South Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan. But I’ve never seen anything like this, where so many people – especially children – are so visibly distressed or traumatized.

Dealing with this trauma will form a critical part of the humanitarian response. Already, agencies like Save the Children are running dozens of therapeutic playgroups for younger children known as ‘child friendly spaces’.

But what’s really needed is education. School isn’t just about learning; it provides routine and a sense of normality, a place where children can make friends, play and remember what it’s like to be children. It’s also a critical form of protection from exploitation and abuse like trafficking.

Yet right now more than 450,000 school-aged Rohingya children aren’t going to school.

Ensuring children can access education in emergencies like this saves lives. Seeing the haunted faces of so many traumatised children like Shawkat, I’ve never been surer of this.

 

A Letter to Save the Children

Author Portrait_Victoria Zegler, Multimedia Storyteller
Victoria Zegler

Multimedia Storyteller

Save the Children U.S.

June 19, 2017

“Thank you for helping refugees for us!” 7-year-old Miriam from New York wrote in her letter to Save the Children back in January. Miriam and her younger brother Simon, 6, both wrote letters to the organization thanking them for the work they do for refugees.

“I wanted to write to Save the Children because I am thankful for the people who help the refugees,” said Simon.

Simon and Miriam have two older brothers and a baby sister. The family was living in London at the time the Syria crisis began to pick up a lot of media attention, but has since moved back to the United States. After the more recent attention in the public eye on the Syria crisis grew even more, their mother Jo, felt compelled to do something.

Simon and Miriam wrote letters to Save the Children, thanking them for their work with refugee children.
Simon and Miriam wrote letters to Save the Children, thanking them for their work with refugee children.

Simon and Miriam first learned about refugees in 2015. Word got around their school about the viral photo of the 3-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan, who drowned as his family tried to flee from Kobani to Europe. The image shows the young boy, dead, washed up on the Turkish coast. This image began to raise questions in the family home.

“It’s important for me to know what’s going on in the world,” said Jo. “I really want to teach my children empathy so it’s important for me to talk to them about the privileges they have.”

“I really want to teach my children empathy so it’s important for me to talk to them about the privileges they have.” shared Jo, Simon and Miriam’s mother
“I really want to teach my children empathy so it’s important for me to talk to them about the privileges they have.” shared Jo, Simon and Miriam’s mother.

After writing their letters to Save the Children, the family received a letter back, introducing them to the kind of work Save the Children does for refugees.

“We got a letter from Save the Children and it had a picture from one of the girls at the refugee camp,” said Miriam.

The family hung this photo, along with the child’s drawing, on their refrigerator next to their family photos.

“I felt happy to know that all of them were happy and were having fun at the refugee camp,” said Miriam.

With Save the Children’s unique refugee child sponsorship model, a number of sponsors may be matched with the same child, who represents the many refugee children who will benefit from our sponsors’ generous donations, providing access to low-cost, high-impact programs that are the best chance for success for these children.

Interested in joining our community of sponsors? Click here to learn more.

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

A Letter from the Front Lines of the Refugee Crisis

Saving lives at sea

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

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

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

A quarter of those rescued are children

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

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

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

The deadliest crossing on record

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

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

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

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

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

Thousands of children are still at risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Names changed for protection

Hope is running out (2)

Hope is Running Out

As I sit on the plane on the way back from Beirut, Lebanon, typing at 30,000 feet, my mind keeps going back to one of the more emotional moments I’ve experienced in a long time.  I’m back to a small set of chilly cement rooms where a mother, father and three children live in northern Lebanon, listening to them tell me about how they fled here after years under siege in their home village of Hamah in Syria.  The family had seen such heartbreak that it was hard to take it all in during our brief time together but now, at cruising altitude, it hits me like a fist.

Perched on thin mattresses on the cement floor, we asked the mother and father about their journey and what life was like for them.  They started by thanking Save the Children for the help we had given by putting doors and windows into the bare concrete walls, in installing a sink and toilet in the apartment, and making the stairs safe to use.  The father talked about how he has only been able to get sporadic work in the northern Lebanese village; Syrians are only allowed to work in construction, agriculture or low-skill odd jobs and it meant their resources were incredibly stretched.  A young boy, less than two years old, sat in his mother’s lap and a cute, energetic 4 year-old played peekaboo with me and giggled loudly.  Then one of our team asked an innocent question – why was their 8 year-old son, stirring under a blanket on the raised platform bed in the room, not in school?

The father looked down and we saw the pain cross his face as he told us that his son, Haddi, fell from a two-story balcony in the unfinished building eight months ago, shattering his hip.  After two unsuccessful operations, he had a third one three weeks before our visit; this operation cost the family all of their savings and put them further into debt.  His mother began to cry as she told us how they had tried to get him to the best doctor they could find and showed us the X-rays—images that showed three screws in a small, fragile hipbone. This boy was not in school because he was in intense pain and had barely moved since they brought him back from the hospital.  I saw the shocked look on the face of our local team member who managed the work on the apartment, who had not seen the family since before the accident and had no idea it had happened.

We tried to think of what to say to this family, to give them some hope that their son would be okay.  In a circumstance I can only describe as fate, one of our visitors with me on this trip was from the Pacific Northwest and her daughter had been in an accident as a young girls and had the same operation for her crushed pelvis.  She comforted the weeping Syrian mom as best she could, telling her about her daughter’s story and full recovery.  But we knew that was with some of the best medical care in the world and months and months of rehabilitation. This was not after three surgeries, laying on a wooden bed with few medicines, no wheelchairs and no daily visits from a physical therapist. We wanted to give some hope but you could see in the parents’ faces that for this family, hope was fading.

Later we spoke to our team about trying to get more medical care for Haddi, care that would probably stretch the emergency fund we keep for such dire cases to the limit. We will somehow find a way to help him.

But there are so many sad cases as the Syria crisis moves into its seventh year.  So many thousands of cases of children’s lives lost or shattered, of childhoods cut short when 11 year-olds begin to work picking vegetables, when 14 year-old girls are married to “keep them safe”, when children leave their families to go on their own to try to get somewhere safer, better, saner.

As we spoke to some of UN partners the next day, I sensed some hope that, though it would be difficult, maybe on the horizon there will be a time when some of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon feel safe enough to begin going back home. But as the war now stretches past the duration of World War II, I worry for the Haddis that we don’t reach, that we don’t know about, for whom hope and time is truly running out.

Please help us provide support and hope to Haddi and his family—and so many others like them—by donating to our Syrian Children’s Relief Fund.

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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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.

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.

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.

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.