The number of Syrian children forced to flee their country has reached 1 million, according to United Nations figures, another grim milestone in a war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives.
U.N. officials say the conflict, now in its third year, has caused the worst refugee crisis in two decades, with numbers escalating at a pace last seen during the Rwanda genocide.
Children make up half of the refugees in the conflict, U.N. officials said Friday. Some 740,000 of them are under the age of 11.
“The youth of Syria are losing their homes, their family members and their futures,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement issued in Geneva. “Even after they have crossed a border to safety, they are traumatized, depressed and in need of a reason for hope.”
Most of these children are seeking sanctuary in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. But increasingly, Syrians are fleeing to North Africa and Europe, according to the U.N. refugee agency. More than 3,500 children were unaccompanied or separated from their families when they crossed into neighboring countries, the statement said.
U.N. officials have been warning of a lost generation of children in Syria, growing up illiterate and full of hatred.
As the Los Angeles Times' Carol J. Williams reported in July, "It was a warning fearfully telegraphed by U.N. relief workers about Bosnia’s children 20 years ago, a tragically accurate prediction of long-term consequences still visible in the divided political, ethnic and business leaderships in the Balkan country today."
The United Nations estimates that some 7,000 children have been killed in the fighting, and 2 million displaced within Syria’s borders.
“We must all share the shame,” said Anthony Lake, executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund. “We should stop and ask ourselves how, in all conscience, we can continue to fail the children of Syria.”
The U.N. has appealed for $3 billion to address the acute needs of Syrian refugees until December, but the plan is just 38% funded, the two agencies said.
“More funds are only part of the response needed to address children’s needs,” the agencies said.
“While intensified efforts are needed to find a political solution to the crisis in Syria, parties to the conflict must stop targeting civilians and cease recruitment of children. Children and their families must be safe to leave Syria and borders must remain open so they can cross to safety."
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