Risk of “lost generation” in Middle East, says Leila Zerrougui in interview on state of children affected by conflict in the region

Describing the horrifying conditions for children in several war-affected Middle Eastern countries, Leila Zerrougui is calling for cooperation at multiple levels to “find solutions” aimed at ending the “miserable situation” of the region’s future generation.

“The solution is always present whenever there is a full will, and whenever we believe that your security is part of my security, and your fate is my fate,” the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Children and Armed Conflict told the Al-Arabiya television network in an extended interview recently in Arabic.

“We can work together to find solutions; the first step is to develop means to take care of the future generation.”


Viewing options: With English subtitles or in original Arabic (21st minute)


Lamenting the rise of sectarianism and radicalization in the region, SRSG Zerrougui highlighted how the family, community and institutional structures that often protect children had been weakened both in countries where fighting is taking place, and in many neighbouring ones.

Children are being killed and maimed in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and other countries in the region, SRSG Zerrougui said. A huge number of those who escape death are “deprived of education, displaced, and being orphaned” with little prospect for a bright future, she added.

SRSG Zerrougui stressed how even the very young among the children affected by conflict in the region have been reduced to scratching out a living to ensure their own survival or that of their families. “We see them in the streets – ages six and seven – working,” she said.

Beyond the horrors flowing from conflicts in the region, there was the added crisis that large numbers of children and other civilians were now under the “control and authority” of the self-declared Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

In such conditions, children are being radicalized with a “new interpretation” of religion, and youngsters as young as eight years old have been forced to carry weapons, SRSG Zerrougui recounted.

She also expressed deep concern about massive unmet needs in spending on education in emergencies for the huge numbers of internally displaced or refugee children. “This is frightening,” SRSG Zerrougui said. “We will lose the future generation today.”

SRSG Zerrougui signalled that access to education for war-affected children needs to be immediately stepped up.

“The responsibility falls on all of us – as societies, (member) states and the United Nations – to develop the means to support this (vulnerable) group today.”

To watch the interview with English subtitles, click here.

To watch the interview in the original Arabic, click here.

Note: The interview with SRSG Zerrougui begins in the 21st minute of the hour-long show, Diplomatic Avenue, hosted by journalist Talal Al-Haj. It was preceded by an interview with Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria.