Tenth war anniversary comes as the UK plans to cut aid to Syria by two-thirds, with potentially devastating consequences for conflict-affected children
AMMAN, 9 March – After ten years of war, the vast majority of Syria’s children cannot imagine a future in their country, according to a new report by Save the Children. On average, 86 percent of Syrian refugee children surveyed in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and the Netherlands said they would not want to return to their country of origin[i].
Of children displaced inside Syria, one in three would rather be living in another country.
This comes as the UK Government plans to slash aid to Syria by two-thirds, a move likely to have devastating consequences for vulnerable children and families.
Children who fled their homes are struggling to feel safe where they are now, as around two in five children surveyed by Save the Children said they face discrimination and a lack of education. Many feel they have no say over their future.
Next week marks ten years since nationwide protests descended into a deadly conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands, displaced millions of children and their families, and decimated Syria’s economy and infrastructure.
Every aspect of children’s lives has been torn apart, leaving them uprooted and without a real sense of home, according to a Save the Children report that was published today.
For the report ‘Anywhere but Syria’ – the largest piece of research of its kind by Save the Children – the organisation interviewed over 1,900 displaced children and their caregivers inside and outside Syria. The report finds that:
- Only three percent of the children surveyed in Turkey, nine percent in Jordan and the Netherlands, and 29 percent in Lebanon want to return to Syria.
- For children across all countries, an end to violence in Syria (26 percent) was most frequently mentioned when asked about their biggest wish for the future, followed by education (18 percent).
- 44 percent of all children in the study had experienced discrimination in their neighbourhood or in school. Inside Syria, 58 percent reported being discriminated against.
- Within the same sample, 42 percent of respondents were not attending school, with only 31 percent having access to learning in Lebanon, and less than half (49 percent) in Jordan.
Seven-year-old Lara* was forced to flee her hometown in Maarat al-Numan in Idlib three years ago. Having been displaced several times, her family now live in a camp in Idlib. She told Save the Children:
“After ten years, our future became all about war. Our life in Syria is difficult, our house was destroyed in our village and now we live in a tent. I wish to live in any country other than Syria, where it’s safe and there are schools and toys. It’s not safe here, the sound of dogs scares me, and the tent is not safe.”
Of all children who participated in the research, those displaced inside Syria felt the least connected to their communities. They were significantly more likely to report having experienced discrimination than their peers in Jordan or Lebanon, despite being in their country of origin.
Even before the harsh economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, 80% of people in Syria had been living below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day. Recent figures show that 6.2 million of the country’s children are going without food.
The hardship faced by Syrian children and their families has not stopped at the country’s borders. In Lebanon – gripped by an economic crisis, political instability, COVID-19, and the impact of last year’s explosion in Beirut – nine out of ten Syrian refugee families are living in extreme poverty, according to the UN.
17-year-old Nada* was born in Syria with a disability that affected her nervous system. She currently lives in Akkar, North Lebanon. She told Save the Children:
“My dream is to become a doctor. But I don’t have an education. There’s no safety, I can’t even go to school. My dream is to go to school and be just like my siblings. I don’t want to go back there. I don’t want to go back and live in Syria again. I don’t want to stay in Lebanon either. No matter where I go. If we go to school, they bully us and tell us they don’t want us.”
In the survey, children also highlighted the importance of accessing a good education, and the deep impact on their wellbeing of this being out of reach.
By contrast, in the Netherlands, 70 percent of Syrian children saw a positive future, and all children surveyed received an education. Those who wanted to stay in the Netherlands – more than eight in ten – mentioned language, education, economic opportunity, and ‘freedom’ as reasons.
Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children UK, said:
“After a decade of standing with the people of Syria, the UK is now turning its back on millions of children and vulnerable families. This is the action of a government lacking a sense of moral purpose. Cutting by two-thirds an aid lifeline that could help millions of children get the education, nutrition, and support is not just short-sighted - it’s a dereliction of leadership that will profoundly damage the UK’s international standing. Syria’s children deserve a better future, and they deserve better from the UK government. They are now being punished twice over, first for a war that has robbed them of their childhood and then by aid cuts that will destroy their hopes for a better future.
“It is now vital that the international community provides the support Syria’s children need to keep hope alive, realise their potential, and develop the skills they will need to rebuild their country. We call on the UK government to reverse this appalling decision and act on the values of generosity, compassion, and kindness that define the UK public.”
Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria Response Director, said:
“Globally, in the midst of a pandemic, we have been reminded of the importance of compassion, humanity and shared responsibility across borders. If action is not taken now, there is a risk this milestone will become a grim marker of a second generation of Syrian children losing their opportunities for a decent childhood and a future.”
Save the Children is calling on all stakeholders to protect Syria’s children from the physical and psychological violence that has been plaguing their lives for the last 10 years. Syrian children have a right to grow up in an environment where they are free from constant fear for their safety, are not forced to live in displacement and fear of further uprooting and are no longer discriminated against simply because of where they come from.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
- Save the Children interviewed 1,900 Syrian children aged 13-17 in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and the Netherlands. Short surveys were conducted with parents and caregivers.
- The news comes just months after the inauguration of the new US President Joe Biden, who has already reversed a ban on people entering the US from countries including Syria – as well as signing an executive order re-starting the country’s refugee resettlement programme. The programme will see the annual cap on refugee admissions increase from 15,000 to 125,000. UNHCR said this would ‘save lives.’
- Save the Children is providing a range of services for children displaced inside Syria. Directly or through partners, the organisation runs education spaces, vaccination centres, and provides emergency relief for displaced populations.
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[i] The average percentage of children who don't wish to return to Syria is calculated by aggregating the answers to this question from children in Turkey, the Netherlands, Lebanon, and Jordan and dividing the total percentage by four
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