Unlike Laila, who is a member of the ruling family of her Middle Eastern country, most child refugees don't have the luxury of fleeing to a more hospitable country when their own plunges into war. While The Tyrant's Daughter is set in an unknown Middle-Eastern country probably closer to Iraq than Syria, the plight of the refugees in Syria is much in the news.
By mid-2014, OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) estimated that half of Syria's 22 million population was affected by the conflict and in need of humanitarian assistance, including over 7 million internally displaced. In 2014, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that 3,000 to 6,000 people leave Syria each day.
As of July 2015, over 4 million Syrian refugees are registered with the United Nations and are living outside Syria. Almost 1.8 million are in Turkey, 1.2 million in Lebanon and over 600,000 in Jordan. As of July 2015 there were an estimated 313,000 in Europe, but these figures are already out of date. On September 2, the BBC reported that 17,500 migrants had registered on the Greek island of Lesbos just in the last week, adding to the estimated 107,000 that arrived in Europe during July. One of the passengers, a Syrian teacher named Isham, told Reuters news agency: "You have to help us. We are human." To add to the catastrophe, Syria is host to refugees from other countries, including over 100,000 from Iraq.
In November 2013, the New York Times reported that the UN estimates half of all the refugees are children. The UNHCR says that fewer than half the children are able to go to school, and children as young as 7 years old work long hours to try to ease their family's burden. The physical and psychological effects on the children are devastating, as UNICEF spokeswoman Juliette Touma described. The children miss home and want to go back, yet they talk in detail about death, what they've witnessed in body counts, sniper fire, and falling debris, among so much else.
The UNHCR are doing what they can to help but funds are stretched to breaking point. According to their website, "thanks to the generous support of our donors, since January (presumably 2015) 1.8 million refugees received food aid, 500,000 children were enrolled in school, and shelter in camps was provided for more than 460,000 refugees."
UNICEF works inside Syria. As of 2014 they were immunizing 2.2 million children under five and providing 10 million people with safe drinking water, plus education programs for over 200,000. For those who can't attend school, UNICEF began a program in 2014 to provide home-based education program for 400,000 students.
Other organizations are also responding. Lebanon Migrant Center (CLMC) has partnered with UNHCR to provide assistance to refugees ranging from schools for migrant children, to social support, to remedial courses, and even to legal counseling. The Czech-based People in Need (PIN) also provides assistance, rehabilitating schools and health centers, as well as providing income generation courses. The International Medical Corps (IMC) is also deeply involved in assistance, as well as the Danish Refugee Council and the United Nations World Food Programme.
The focus on working toward stability for Syrian refugees received a boost of attention in 2014 when Malala Yousafzai – the Pakistani girl who was almost assassinated by the Taliban for insisting on going to school – went to Zaatari, the largest refugee camp in Jordan, just at the Syrian border. Only three schools serve the 50,000 children in Zaatari, and Malala and her education fund (The Malala Fund) were there to raise money. They have partnered with Save the Children to expand educational services for child refugees in Jordan, as well as provide grants for local Syrian teachers and training in education and post-crisis trauma therapy.
In an interview with Renee Montaigne on NPR's Morning Edition, Malala said, "A child learns every day something new. But if he is living in an environment where he sees violence, where he sees bad people, it has a very bad influence on their child. But if he's in a different environment, in a healthy environment, in an environment where he can learn, he's going to school, he has teachers, he is learning how to work in groups and how to work in collaboration with each other, so then it has a good impact on the child's future."
Image of Syrian refugee children in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, courtesy of Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Image of Syrian refugees living in cramped quarters in Lebanon, courtesy of Margaret Besheer.
Image of Syrian refugee camp on the Turkish border, courtesy of Henry Ridgwell.
This article was originally published in March 2014, and has been updated for the
July 2015 paperback release.
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