By Stephanie Tremblay
“We loved our life in Syria,” says Mohammed*. In Adra, just North of Damascus, he used to work as a driver and says he was living a comfortable life with his wife and their two-year old son. Eight months ago, war got closer to his home. They decided it was too risky to stay. Mohammed and his wife abandoned everything, boarded a bus that took them north and walked across the Iraqi border.
“We left without our shoes,” says his wife to emphasize how quickly they fled. Now, in Domiz camp, in northern Iraq, their home is a tent. They say they are still adjusting to their new life.
When the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, traveled with UNICEF and UNHCR to Domiz in July, she heard how children and their families have been affected by the conflict in Syria.
“I met a father whose teenage son was approached to join the fight,” said Ms. Zerrougui. “To protect him, he felt that the best option was to take his family out of Syria.”
Since the beginning of the conflict, over 155,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Iraq. Close to half of them are children.
In the camp, the Special Representative met with Government officials, UN agencies and a group of non-governmental organizations working to protect children. They explained how children were affected by the conflict and the importance of psycho-social support and education to help them recover. One issue that came up repeatedly was overcrowding. Domiz camp was built by local authorities about a year ago to accommodate 15,000 people. In July, it was home to three times as many Syrians.
The number of refugees here has tripled between December 2012 and July and tens of thousands more have sought refuge in Iraq in the past weeks. Additional resources are needed to provide basic services to a population that keeps growing.
As part of her mandate, the Special Representative reports to the Security Council about six grave violations committed against children in situation of armed conflict: killing or maiming, recruitment and use of children by armed forces or armed groups, abduction, sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals and denial of humanitarian access.
Evidence gathered since the beginning of the conflict confirms that grave child rights violations are taking place in Syria. All parties involved, the Syrian armed forces and associated militias, as well as opposition groups, are on the list of shame of the Secretary-General.
“Documenting violations against children is essential to protect them and, ultimately, to end impunity,” said Ms. Zerrougui.
Back in Domiz camp, Mohammed feels that his son and family are safe. But, he says, he’s hoping that one day, hopefully soon, he will cross the border again to go back home.
*All names have been changed to protect the identities of the refugees.
Stephanie Tremblay is in charge of communications in the office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.