Escaping war trauma, Syrian children reconnect with their childhood
By Salam Abdulmunem DOHUK, Iraq, April 2013 - Zilan (10) and her three siblings took refuge in the Domiz Syrian refugee camp in Iraq four weeks ago. She is one of over 500 refugees who cross the Syrian border to Iraq every day. “ we had to stop going to school,” says Zilan. “We stayed at home because it was getting dangerous in Qamishli.” The city of Qamishli, close to the northern Syrian-Iraqi border, has recently seen increased fighting as the violence in Syria continues. Shadan Tahir, UNICEF’s child protection officer in northern Iraq, says children are increasingly showing signs of stress and trauma compared with before. “At the Child Friendly Space, we see children drawing harrowing scenes of violence and bloodied bodies which they describe as a ‘massacre’,” she said.
For these children playing in this Child Friendly Space, the only one in the camp, helps them to cope with the instability and distress they are living through. The demand is so high and the space so small that the volunteers and social workers operate a threeshift schedule to accommodate 500 children every day.
With funding from the United Kingdom and support from the Dohuk Department of Social Affairs,
UNICEF is able to provide children not only with a safe play space but also with a Child Protection Unit where children and parents can receive psychological support, medical care and legal advice on issues ranging from children’s special needs to abuse and exploitation.
As the general camp population grows - there are currently around 40,000 people in Domiz now - so does the number of children with special needs.
The protection unit receives four to five children with disabilities every day for advice and assistance in getting the special care they need. But adequate services are still missing. “We still don’t have outdoor playgrounds because of funding shortfalls. At times of increased vulnerability it becomes even more important that the childhood of these children is protected,” says Ms. Tahir.
In December 2011, UNICEF appealed for $ 20 million to provide life-saving assistance to Syrians who took refuge in Iraq. So far, UNICEF received only 33 per cent of the funding. If UNICEF’s funding needs are not met, this only child friendly space and other services vital for the Syrian children will have to be stopped.
To find out more on our work in the Domiz refugee camp read the UNICEF Iraq blog: unicefiraq.blogspot.com