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28 February 2020

UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, has addressed the UN Security Council on the urgent dangers facing over half a million children who have been displaced amidst worsening violence and conditions in Northwest Syria. “2020 is barely two months old. And according to OHCHR — some 300 people have been killed in Idlib and Aleppo since the start of the year. The situation is worsening by the day.”

“The escalation of fighting in the northwest since December has pushed over 900,000 people — including over half a million children — away from their homes and into danger… Tens of thousands are now living in makeshift tents, public buildings and in the open air, huddled under trees — exposed to rain, snow and the sub-zero cold of a harsh Syrian winter.”

“We’ve heard and read reports of children freezing to death. When wood runs out, families burn whatever they can find — plastic bags, garbage, discarded furniture — just to provide a flicker of heat against the cold, or a simple fire to cook whatever food they can find.” 

The speech follows the news on 26 February 2020 that 10 Syrian schools and kindergartens had been attacked, killing at least nine children.

“Once again we are shocked at a wave of unrelenting violence that saw at least nine children and three teachers killed as 10 schools and kindergartens came under attack yesterday in Idlib, in the northwest of Syria” said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “At least four of the schools were supported by UNICEF’s partners. There are reports that as many as 40 women and children were injured in these attacks.” “We strongly condemn the killing and maiming of children. Schools and other education facilities are a sanctuary for children. Attacking them is a grave violation of children’s rights.”

The UN Security Council heard of the horrific impacts of the worsening violence, including the following statistics summarised by Henrietta Fore in her speech: 

  • In the northwest, 280,000 children have had their education cruelly snatched away. And an estimated 180 schools are out of operation — destroyed, damaged or being used for shelters.
  • 72 hospitals have suspended services because of the fighting.
  • 6.5 million Syrians are going hungry every day because of food insecurity. The price of essential food items has risen 20 times since the war began.
  • Over half of all health facilities, and three out of 10 schools, are non-functional.
  • In 2018, over 1,100 children were killed in the fighting — the highest number of children killed in a single year since the start of the war. Last year was scarcely better — about 900 were killed and hundreds maimed.
  • 11 million people across Syria who still require urgent humanitarian assistance. Almost half are children.
  • Girls as young as nine have been raped. And one in four children is at risk of severe mental disorders.
  • Almost a decade of war has forced nearly half of the country’s population from their homes.

In the speech, she highlighted the incredible efforts and help being provided by UNICEF, its sister agencies and partners, but stressed more funding was needed as well as commitment from all parties across Syria to protect innocent children. 

Amongst the highlights of UNICEF’s humanitarian aid in the past year were the screening of 1.8 million mothers and children for malnutrition, health consultations for over 2 million people, water and sanitation services for over 7.4 million people, psychosocial counselling for almost 400,000 women and children, winter clothing and blankets for over 37,000 children, vaccinations for nearly 600,000 children under the age of one and helping 1.8 million children continue their education.

“A child born at the start of this war is now nine years old. Are we forced to admit to her that peace is beyond our grasp? That we are unable, or unwilling, to stop this destructive war?

Next year, we will mark the 10th anniversary of the Syrian conflict — an anniversary none of us wants to see.”