The forgotten children of a forgotten crisis
As we are approaching Universal Children’s Day, celebrated every year on November 20th, children have been on my mind more than usual. This time of year, I tend to reflect on the things I have placed my focus on, and every single year I realize how little I have paid attention to the rights of the most vulnerable in this world: children.
This year has been difficult for everyone, adults and children alike. In many countries, there are differing opinions about whether or not children should go back to school because of the pandemic, but very little appreciation for the fact that the option of education is even available. Many children suffer from loneliness and boredom due to hobbies and afterschool activities being canceled, but not from fear of rape, violence, and death.
Not all children are lucky enough to go to school and have hobbies.
Refugee children bear the consequences of war
The most recent refugee crisis in Europe that has been going on since 2015 is catastrophic and its consequences are desperate. Right now, it is estimated that one-third of the refugees and migrants who have arrived in Europe are children, many without parents or family.
The exact numbers of the refugee crisis are hard to estimate, as new refugees arrive daily and children are born in camps. I’m using statistics and information provided by Unicef and UNHCR for this article.
Many refugees flee to Europe primarily from these three countries: Syria (54%), Iraq (27%), and Afghanistan (13%). On 18 March 2016, the European Council and Turkey reached an agreement aimed at stopping the flow of irregular migration via Turkey to Europe. Asylum seekers fleeing Syria have no prospect other than staying in refugee camps in Turkey for an indefinite time. Some attempt to make the dangerous journey by illegal waterways to Europe via the Greek island of Lesbos. An estimate is that half of these are children.
· 2 in 3 children fleeing from Syria have suffered a war-related loss — lost a loved one, had their house bombed, or endured injuries.
· More than 2.3 million Syrian children have lost their homes and are living as refugees in the Middle East
· 9,000 children who arrived in Europe between January and December 2019 were unaccompanied
· It is estimated that more than one child dies every day along the perilous Central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy.
· In 2019, 1,885 men, women and children lost their lives while trying to cross the Mediterranean
· Refugee and migrant children and women routine suffer sexual violence, exploitation, abuse and detention as they make their way along the Central Mediterranean migration route from North Africa to Italy
· On the other side of the world, in Bangladesh and Myanmar, more than 100,000 children have been born in refugee camps.
Most camps are overpopulated and lack food, water, medication, shelter, and waste management.
These camps are the home to children who have witnessed extreme violence, famine, and heartbreak. Many of them are separated from their families and are without any protection from abuse, neglect, trafficking, and exploitation.
They spend their entire childhood away from home and without stability or safety.
Moria is a refugee camp in Lesbos built for 3,100 people. Currently, the camp is trying to accommodate 20,000 men, women, and children. There are about 5,000 unaccompanied minors in the Greek refugee camps, and about 1,000 of them stay at Moria.
Doctors and paramedics on the island have been especially shocked to see the faltering mental health of children and young adults. Dr. Giovanna Scaccabarozzi, who coordinates medical care for asylum seekers on the island of Lesbos, saw the horrific conditions children live in in the refugee camp of Moria.
“As you arrive at Moria, you see a wall that says: they killed our dreams. My thought was that they, whoever they are, killed these children’s childhoods. Dreams are about the future, but childhood is now.”
According to Scaccabarozzi, many young people in Moria suffer from severe anxiety and depression. Some have suicidal thoughts.
“The most tragic thing to witness is the mental health problems of these children. Compared to all other sites where our organization has worked, we see very dramatic mental health issues here in Moria.”
According to Scaccabarozzi, even young children have difficulty sleeping, difficulty placing focus, and live in a continuous state of fear. They come from extreme trauma, but unfortunately, it all gets worse because of the appalling living conditions of Moria.
“They play amongst trash. They sleep in a shelter that is just a tent. The winters are cold on the islands and they are exposed to severe weather conditions. They have to stand in lines all the time to get food and water. We know that some children are forced into prostitution, but the numbers are hard to estimate.”
*Quotes translated from this article.
A Lost Generation
The refugee crisis creates a generation of children without proper opportunities for education. Social exclusion and marginalization threaten this generation and many children grow up without hope for a better future or without any kind of outlook for life. Some of them are at severe risk to become radicalized, posing a threat to everyone. This snowball effect can be foreseen and could be prevented and most of all, it is not the fault of these children.
Please consider donating to help refugees. They are in an especially desperate situation due to the pandemic, with very little resources to provide them with face masks or sanitizer.
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