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Aid Agencies: War Scarring a Generation of Syrian Children

  • Henry Ridgwell

Aid agencies are warning that a whole generation of Syrian children is being mentally scarred by the conflict at home — and by the difficulties of life as a refugee. Charities say treatment for traumatized children is vastly underfunded.

Playing with his three brothers in their small apartment in Lebanon, 9-year-old Aden is sometimes able to forget the horrors he witnessed in Syria. But the nightmares often return, and the psychological scars are being compounded by the misery of life as a refugee.

Aden said that other children speak to him in a very bad way, using bad words. He said they point at him and call him a Syrian dog and accuse Syrians of causing bombs.

Aid agency Save the Children warned that a catastrophic number of Syrian children are bearing the mental scars of war and displacement — and being left untreated. Caroline Anning, who works for the charity, spoke to VOA via Skype from Lebanon.

FILE - Migrant children carrying toys and bags leave from their family's tent at Victoria square in Athens, Oct. 1, 2015. Aid agencies are warning that a whole generation of Syrian children is being mentally scarred by the conflict at home – and by the difficulties of life as a refugee.

FILE - Migrant children carrying toys and bags leave from their family's tent at Victoria square in Athens, Oct. 1, 2015. Aid agencies are warning that a whole generation of Syrian children is being mentally scarred by the conflict at home – and by the difficulties of life as a refugee.

“I spoke to 6-year-old girl who had lost her eye in an explosion in an airstrike on Homs on her house. And she’d seen her younger brother torn to pieces in front of her. And children are very resilient, but those sorts of things are incredibly difficult to get past, particularly without expert help and psychological care,” said Anning.

That expert care is being provided by some groups like Save the Children — which runs a so-called Child Friendly Space in the Lebanese city of Tripoli, where Syrian and Lebanese families can integrate in a safe area.

Child psychologist Reem Nasri of Save the Children said more resources and funding are desperately needed.

“Leaving children untreated leads to a very negative impact later on in adulthood. For example, they can become very aggressive later on. There’s also a deep emotional impact that can occur — for example, depression, anxiety problems, even a phobia, which can be very difficult to treat later on,” Nasri said.

The statistics are striking. In a refugee camp in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, one in 10 of children has lost at least one parent. An estimated 200,000 Syrian refugee children are growing up with no form of education. Rates of early marriage for girls are soaring.

“There are 2 million Syrian refugee children. And at the moment the funding for child protection, which is what this sort of help comes under, is only 26 percent funded,” Anning said.

Anning said a whole generation of Syrian children is being scarred by the horrors of war — and intervention is needed fast.

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