The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is determined to make sure no Syrian kids are killed in 2020.
Especially after 2018 became the deadliest year for children in the country since the start of the armed conflict there eight years ago, Juliette Touma, the UNICEF Regional Chief of Communications in the Middle East and North Africa, told Sputnik.
UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, said in a statement earlier that in 2018 alone, 1,106 children were killed in the fighting, which is the highest number of Syrian kids killed in a single year since the start of the conflict.
The United Nations estimates that 60 children have already died since the start of this year.
“Eight years of war, eight million children inside Syria and in neighbouring countries in need, 2018 the deadliest year.
“The war on children has to come to an end in 2019, there have to be zero kids killed.
“Zero, this is exactly what needs to happen,’’ Touma said.
“2018 was the worst, it couldn’t get worse.
“But every year, when we do the statistics, when we look at the numbers we are shocked once again to find out that we were wrong and that the war on children in Syria continues,’’ the UNICEF representative said.
She stressed the need for collective action and support for international organisations like UNICEF to prevent the situation from deteriorating even further.
“While adults continued to kill children, what needs to happen is for organisations like my own to be able to do our job with no conditions, with open and free access,’’ Touma underlined.
The chief of communications also expressed optimism that those attending the third conference, dubbed “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region,’’ which started in Brussels earlier this week, would “listen to the plea of the children of Syria,’’ who have not lost all hope.
According to Touma, the ongoing conference, also known as Brussels III, during which donors are expected to make financial pledges to support Syria, should pay special attention to the needs of children affected by the conflict.
“For the expectations from our side, UNICEF, that is to continue to have all those who are participating at this conference, especially the decision-makers, to prioritise the needs of children,’’ she stressed.
Namely, UNICEF is requesting $1.2 billion for 2019 so that the organisation could continue its operations in six different countries, including Syria and those that are hosting refugees, according to Touma.
“This is our claim; it’s very similar to our claims from previous years.
“It focuses on providing humanitarian assistance to those who are most in need.
“Also focusing on education, water sanitation and on an area that is rarely covered, which is the psychological support to children affected by war and conflict.’’
Touma stressed that Syrian refugee repatriation should be done on a voluntary basis, with a guaranteed conducive environment in Syria, including a complete end of violence on the ground.
“Without those factors, and also without access to basic services, including to schools, to hospitals, the return is incredibly difficult.
“So, these are the areas, the factors that need to be met before any return could happen.
“People are asking for security and for safety before making any decision to return,’’ she pointed out.
According to the UNICEF communications chief, in 2018 and the first months of this year, humanitarian access to a number of areas in Syria has “certainly improved’’.
Yet, UNICEF is still unable to reach every single child in need.
“UNICEF and other humanitarian organisations must have all available access, unconditional humanitarian access so that we are able to reach every single child in need in the country.
“Wherever they are in the country, to whichever means possible through across the lines of operations inside Syria, or also across the border from Syria’s neighbouring countries,’’ Touma said.
According to UNICEF, over 5.5 million children in Syria are still in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, including nearly half a million in hard-to-reach areas.
From January to December 2018, UNICEF and its partners provided about 4.6 million people with improved access to water and reached 1.7 million with mine risk education.