The conflict in Syria continues to drive the largest refugee crisis in the world, with 5.4 million Syrian refugees registered in the region. Nearly half (48%) are children. About 92% of Syrian refugees live in host communities in very precarious living conditions. Depleted resources, the high cost of living and restricted livelihood opportunities are making it difficult for vulnerable families to meet their children's basic needs. Many Syrian refugee families are forced to resort to negative coping practices, including early marriage and child labor.
In line with the No Lost Generation Initiative, UNICEF supported national systems in Syria and in Syrian refugee host countries reaching over 773,000 children (98% target) with psychosocial support, and helped over 3.2 million children (88% target) to enroll in formal education. Children's exclusion from education remains a serious problem. An estimated 1.75 million school aged children in Syria and over 40% of Syrian refugee children remain out-of-school. Key challenges include funding shortfalls, capacity of partners and families' lack of livelihoods.
With UNICEF support, more than 8.9 million children were vaccinated against polio in Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. In Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, over 6.8 million people had sustainable access to safe water through improved water supply systems, and 1.8 million people benefitted from temporary water provision.
The conflict in Syria continues to take a devastating toll on the lives of children. In 2017, the United Nations verified 2,909 grave violations against children (including 119 and 89 attacks on hospitals and schools respectively). February, March and April 2017 recorded the highest grave violations with 350+ cases verified for each.
UNICEF has launched the humanitarian appeal for 2018 in Syria and for Syrian Refugees for 2018 and 2019 in host countries. The total for both appeals in 2018 is US$1.3 billion and 894.3 million for the 2019 appeal for Syrian refugees. With enough funding, UNICEF hopes to reach 10.8 million people, including 6.9 million children (the overall target does not include polio) with access to safe water, nutrition, education, health and protection in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey.
Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs:
During 2017, Syria’s children continued to suffer from escalating conflict and brutal violence which directly impacted their survival, protection, development, and well-being. Despite the creation of de-escalation zones, hostility remained the primary driver of suffering. By the end of the year, there were 13.1 million people in need of assistance including 5.3 million children. Of those affected 6.1 million people have been uprooted from their homes and forced to relocate, while an additional 5.5 million people have fled the country as refugees. Throughout the year, children faced violence, abuse and exploitation, recruitment and use by armed groups, killing, maiming, abduction and sexual and gender-based violence. Schools were directly targeted resulting in death, injury, and interruption to learning2 . In 2017, the Syria Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM4Syria) on grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict verified 26 attacks on educational facilities and the Health sector reported up to 107 attacks affecting health workers and facilities in the first half of 2017. Throughout the year, overall vulnerabilities continued to deepen, disproportionately affecting children. Child recruitment is a particular concern, with 18 per cent of 300 verified cases (of which 289 involved boys) involving children under the age of 15 - with some as young as 12 years - many of whom are reported to have engaged in active combat roles. Conflict in the south has been persistent and intense, with opposition influence expanding in the western border region and the government maintaining influence in the north and east. A combination of factors including vastly inflated food prices, inadequate shelter, fuel shortages, electricity cuts, and disrupted access to clean water, have generated considerable humanitarian needs within both displaced and other conflict-affected communities3 . While parts of Aleppo governorate opened for humanitarian access in 2017, the emergence of non-state armed groups, particularly in Idleb, presented new challenges in reaching children in need. With large numbers fleeing escalating violence in southern Idleb and northern Hama at the close of 2017, the situation for children in the northwest of Syria is of heightened concern.
Jordan continued to offer protection and assistance to 2.7 million refugees, including about 656,000 registered Syrian refugees4 (51 per cent children). At the end of the year, a vulnerable population of 40,000-50,000 Syrians remains along Jordan’s northeast desert border near Rukban, including an estimated 5,000 people who were displaced from Hadalat camp in September 2017, needing urgent humanitarian support. Eighty per cent of the population at the Berm is estimated to be women and children, with a significant percentage of households headed by females. Since the closure of the border in June 2016, only modest support has been possible from the Jordanian side of the Berm, including the provision of safe water and access to basic health services, primarily through the UN in close coordination with the Jordanian Armed Forces. As a key strategic shift in 2017, UNICEF focused on advocating for and facilitating access to public services and essential documentation to increase government accountability for, and sustainability of, services for these vulnerable communities. Despite significant progress for vulnerable children in Jordan, challenges persist. 41 per cent of registered Syrian refugee children remain out-of-school5 and only 59 per cent of five year olds are enrolled in early childhood education (KG2)6 . Common barriers to education include quality of education, poverty, distance to school, violence and overcrowding. Youth unemployment remains high, at 31.8 per cent7 , with 29 per cent of 15-24 year olds Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET)8 . 97 per cent of the Syrian refugee population lives outside of camps bearing difficult economic conditions. While the official poverty rate stands at 14.4 per cent (last reported in 2010), a World Bank study in 2015 found that 18.6 per cent of Jordan’s population experiences poverty at least one quarter per year.
Iraq hosts about 247,000 registered Syrian refugees, including more than 107,000 children.9 In 2017, the needs of Syrian refugees have increased10 due to the poor socio-economic situation in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and reduced livelihood opportunities11. As of December 2017, and according to UNCHR estimates, around 11,000 individuals moved into camps while around 9,000 individuals moved out of camps12, indicating a net increase of around 2,000 Syrian refugees in KRI camps13 . While the situation for refugees in Iraq is relatively better than other regional refugee-hosting countries, the situation is deteriorating particularly for those who cannot obtain an income; 37 per cent of refugees are now estimated to be below the poverty line14 . With around 40 per cent of Syrian refugees being under 18 years, the need for education access remains high. Although refugees in camps are comparatively well served, those in host communities may not have regular access to basic education, primary healthcare, regular safe water supply, or adequate sanitation. There remains a need to strengthen community-based child protection networks that can identify child-related issues and advocate for child-focused solutions. While no active conflict took place in KRI areas hosting refugees, increased internal spending on defence combined with a prolonged downturn in the economic situation has limited planned handover of services from humanitarian actors, including UNICEF, to Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities. After the November earthquake, the Joint Crisis Coordination Center issued a damage assessment report for affected areas in KRI estimating 640,000 affected people15 and about US$312 million as net value of damages.
Lebanon continued to shoulder a disproportionate burden of Syrian refugees17 by hosting over 1.5 million refugees (almost one million registered with UNHCR, including about 554,000 children)18 , along with a pre-existing population of about 300,000 Palestinian refugees.
The conflict in Syria has significantly impacted Lebanon’s social and economic growth, caused deepening poverty and humanitarian needs, and exacerbated pre-existing development constraints in the country. Children of vulnerable host communities and Syrian refugees are growing up at risk, deprived, and with acute needs for basic services particularly health, education and protection. The situation remains precarious as longstanding inequalities are deepening and tensions at local level, mostly over perceived competition for jobs and access to resources and services resulting in anti-refugee rhetoric further fueled by political interests, recurrent flare-ups in the largest Palestinian camp of Ein El Helweh, and military operations to expel Islamic militant groups at the border areas with Syria in July and August. The sudden resignation and return of the Prime Minister Saad Hariri in November attests to the precarious nature of the stability of the country. The declining socio-economic situation of refugees and military operations exposed children to even higher risk of child marriages, engagement in the worst forms of child labor and armed conflict, and exposure to unexploded ordinances.
Turkey remained home to the largest refugee population in the world as a result of two complex, protracted and closely intertwined humanitarian emergencies. By year-end, almost 3.8 million refugees and asylum-seekers were registered in Turkey, 1.6 million of whom were children. Nearly 3.4 million Syrians, including over 1.5 million children, were under temporary protection in Turkey, in addition to nearly 365,000 refugees mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, of whom some 120,000 were children.19 Under the framework of the EU-Turkey Statement, 1,484 re-admissions were made since March 2016. The majority (91 per cent) of those returned were men predominantly from South Asia and North Africa, with children and women making up five per cent and 9 per cent respectively. After years of displacement, refugee children and families in Turkey remain extremely vulnerable, particularly in the areas of social protection, education and child protection. According to recent assessments, nearly 67 per cent Syrian refuges live below the poverty line and many in shelters with insufficient WASH facilities and inadequate protection against poor weather.20 In addition, it is estimated that over 350,000 Syrian children remain out-of-school and face challenges such as lack of awareness about available services, language barriers, socio-economic obstacles, and dropout at the secondary school level. Refugee children, particularly those out-of-school, remain vulnerable to numerous protection risks, including isolation, discrimination, and different forms of exploitation.
Egypt has increasingly become a country of transit and destination for refugees and migrants due to regional social unrest and political instability, and a deterioration in conditions along the usual migratory route through Libya. Egypt hosts more than 217,831 registered refugees mainly from Syria (60 per cent)21, Sudan, the Horn of Africa and Iraq. While some refugees and migrants use Egypt as a point of departure for irregular migration, many live in the country for years in protracted emergency situations. The key humanitarian needs include lack of sustained access to basic services such as adequate education, health and protection services. As of the end of November 2017, the total number of registered Syrian refugees and asylum seekers has reached over 124,000, an increase of 5.5 per cent since January 2017 (117,591). Forty per cent of new Syrian arrivals to Egypt in 2017 are attributed to illegal crossing from the Sudanese border, leading to an increased number of detentions. Furthermore, an influx of 3,000 unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) were newly registered with UNHCR between January and June 2017. While traditionally, UASC came from Horn of Africa countries, there has been a 39 per cent increase in the number of Syrian separated children during the year, mainly boys entering Egypt. As of November, there are 4,309 registered UASC in the country, the highest number recorded to date and compared to 2,630 in December 2016.