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

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.

Children’s Education is Simply too Important to be a Casualty of War

A blog post by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International and former Prime Minister of Denmark, and Julia Gillard, Chair of the Global Partnership for Education and former Prime Minister of Australia

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When Ali* and his family fled their home in Syria shortly after the war broke out, they had nothing but the clothes on their backs and hope for a better future. Five years on, that hope has turned to despair. Now in Lebanon, none of the family’s six children attend formal schooling, and 15-year-old Ali and his younger brother must work to support their family, digging potatoes for just $4 USD per day.

With wars and persecution driving more than 20 million people worldwide – half of them children – to seek protection in other countries, many are struggling to access basic services. This includes healthcare and education, and the important day-to-day needs of food and shelter.

While education is the single most important tool we can equip children with, it is often one of the first casualties of conflicts and emergencies. Less than 2 percent of global humanitarian funding is currently provided to pay for learning during crises – thereby wasting the potential of millions of children worldwide. Formal learning provides children with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed, while giving them hope for the future. It also gives children who have experienced the trauma and horrors of war and disaster the stability and sense of familiarity they need to be children, while protecting them from the risks of exploitation. Despite the generosity of many countries hosting large refugee populations – the vast majority of which are developing countries – most are struggling to provide refugees with the most basic services, including education. The situation is especially bleak in countries where a third generation of children has now been born into displacement.

Enrollment in primary school among these vulnerable children is well below the national average in places like Lebanon, Uganda, Kenya and Malaysia – a gap which is even more startling among secondary school-aged refugees. In fact, refugee children globally are five times less likely to attend school than other children, with 50 percent of primary school-aged refugee children and 75 percent of secondary school-aged children completely left out of the education system.

A poll commissioned by Save the Children in April found that 77 percent of respondents in 18 countries think children fleeing conflict have as much right to an education as any other child. Yet, for 3.2 million refugee children around the world like Ali and his siblings – who want nothing more than to learn and go to school – education is often an unattainable dream. We simply cannot allow this to continue.

Nearly one month ago at the World Humanitarian Summit, several organizations, including the Global Partnership for Education and Save the Children, joined forces with governments and donors to stop education from falling through the cracks during emergencies. Save the Children also committed to campaigning to get all refugee children back in school within a month of being displaced. Being a refugee cannot be synonymous with missing out on a quality education or being denied a better future – especially when vulnerable children have been forced to flee their homes and countries through no fault of their own. In short, refugee children deserve the right to a quality education as much as any other child.

We know that host countries need support from the international community and understand that no single country can solve this challenge on its own. But we also know that political will is key to solving this challenge.

Our goal is simple – to get millions of refugee children affected by crises back in school, where they belong.

The Education Cannot Wait fund has the potential to be a game changer, but only if governments, donors and aid organizations come together to prioritize, support, coordinate and properly fund this mechanism.

While $90 million USD have been generously pledged to date, billions more will be needed over the next few years if we are to reach our goal of getting 75 million children affected by crises back to school by 2030. Only then can we meet the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the UN, and ensure that no child in the world is ‘left behind.’

Accountability and transparency will be key to the success of Education Cannot Wait – so too will be ensuring that any money pledged for education in emergencies is new, and not simply taken from aid already earmarked for life-saving services like healthcare and nutrition.

In September, world leaders and donors will come together at two key global meetings on the issue of refugees and migrants – this most pressing challenge of our time. We urge those in attendance at the UN high-level meeting and the leader’s summit to prioritize education for children in emergencies and protracted crisis, including those who have been displaced.

With the right opportunities and the chance to learn, children like Ali will no longer be pressured to work – giving him and his family the hope they need to rebuild their lives, and potentially their country, if or when it is safe for them to return.

To learn about Save the Children’s work to help refugee children, click here. 

*Name changed for protection

After Fleeing Danger, Children Deserve a Warm Welcome

carolyn lesvosI am just back from the island of Lesvos in the southeastern part of Greece, where I was visiting our programs for refugees who have made the perilous crossing from Turkey. It is a surreal experience: on the one hand a beautiful island with lovely small towns where vacationers from Europe flock in the summer months; on the other hand, a beach strewn with deflated rafts, substandard lifejackets and water bottles, with soaked families huddled together after a rough journey across the strait from Turkey. This far-flung island off of Greece is now the first landing point for thousands of refugees fleeing from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

 

The trip can be deadly for children. The night I arrived in Lesvos, a one-year-old died in the chaos when he fell into the middle of an overcrowded raft packed with more than 30 people. In the dark, the baby drowned in a few feet of water before his mother could find him in the jumble of people.

 
As I sat and talked to families waiting in line for a bus which would take them down the coast to the registration camp, I was struck by the enormous hardships these families had endured along the way – and the fact that this is only their first stop in a long journey through Europe’s many borders. Many had been first displaced in their own countries by conflict, often living for years under fire, experiencing danger and violence on a regular basis. Finally they felt unable to endure another day of fear, lack food or medical services and no school for their children. They had all made the difficult decision to use all their remaining resources to try to start new lives in Europe.

 

Their journeys through Iran, Turkey, Lebanon and other routes were often marred by tragedy. One mother and grandmother cried as they described to me leaving behind a 9-year-old boy who was separated at the Lebanon/Turkey border and was denied a visa to cross with them. Another young mother told me about the birth of her 14-day-old baby while they were in Iran – on the way to Turkey from Iraq – with no hospital or help available. Despite her advanced pregnancy, she and her husband were forced to flee from ISIS and a life of constant danger. And parent after parent told me that their children had now been out of school for years and they needed to give them their future back.
In the face of this massive wave of people (more than 160,000 reached Lesvos in the month of September alone), Save the Children has been working to make lives easier. Rather than enduring the 40-mile walk, often in brutal temperatures, from where the boats land to the registration camp, Save the Children and other partners have rented buses to take families down the mountainous road. Once at the camp, we distribute hygiene kits and blankets for mothers and children who come with almost nothing but will be facing Europe’s cold winter temperatures. We have our signature child-friendly space set up so that kids can spend even a few hours playing games, getting colorful drawings painted on to their faces. These spaces bring a smile to a child that has often not smiled for many months. We also look for those children having the hardest time coping and refer them for more help. And each afternoon, we supply a cooked meal to over 3,000 people – often the only meal they may get that day.

 

The young staff here from all over the world are tremendously hard working, living together and working all hours seven days a week – they seem to never stop thinking about ways they can make our work better and respond to ever-changing demands. As those fleeing war and persecution continue to arrive, we must all remain committed to meeting their needs to the best of our ability – so that these children don’t have to spend more of their young lives in fear.

 

I am struck by one little boy I met on Lesvos named Hassan, who told me that what he wanted more than anything was to have a home again, and to not be scared. Surely this most basic request is not too much for a little boy, only 8, to ask of us.