News / Middle East

Column: Save the Children of Syria

Children go to school on a damaged street in  Damascus.
Children go to school on a damaged street in Damascus.
While the United States, Russia and the other parties interested in the civil war in Syria haggle over the ground rules for admission to a Geneva peace conference, Syrian children are succumbing to polio and other horrible diseases and losing precious years of schooling.
 
The civil war has destroyed homes, schools, hospitals, sanitation and water systems that once made Syria among the more developed countries in the region. Instead of arguing over who should replace Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – who shows no inclination to resign – those planning a new Geneva conference should focus on establishing local cease-fires to facilitate humanitarian access for aid workers to 5 million Syrians displaced within the country. More international financial aid is also urgently needed to help the more than 2.2 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.
 
Earlier this week, the World Health Organization confirmed 10 cases of polio in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour  and there are likely to be many more given how quickly the crippling disease spreads in unsanitary conditions. A cease-fire would allow the U.N. and other non-governmental organizations to reach these displaced children and vaccinate them against polio and other ailments. Humanitarian workers could also provide food, warm clothing and other supplies to help Syrian families get through another bleak winter.
 
Anne Richard, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington earlier this week that Syrians are dying from “no access to food, clean water and medical care.” She accused the Assad regime of blocking aid from getting out of Damascus, but noted that opposition groups also man checkpoints that hinder access for relief personnel.
 
Beyond the physical needs of displaced people, the war is doing irreparable harm to the minds of millions of Syrian children. Richard said that more than half of Syria’s children no longer attend school and warned that the war is creating a “lost generation.”

Regional trauma

The problem extends to neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees. In Lebanon, where Syrian refugees now comprise nearly a third of the population, there are 280,000 Syrians of school age, most of whom have no access to education, according to Ninette Kelley, resident representative in Lebanon of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Lebanon is straining to educate its own children, who are only slightly more numerous than refugee youngsters.
 
Idle youth are vulnerable to child labor, early marriage and other forms of exploitation and are easy prey for militant groups. Failing to educate the refugees is “a prescription for future hopelessness and attraction to radical ideologies,” said Edward Gabriel, a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco who is now vice chairman of the American Task Force for Lebanon. One has only to think of Palestinians after various Middle East wars and of Afghans after the Soviet invasion to imagine what sorts of terrorists might be spawned by the Syrian war.
 
The best solution, obviously, would be a political solution to the war but that looks unlikely in the short or even medium term.
 
The Assad government, while it has lost control over much of Syrian territory and has no legitimacy in the opinion of millions of its citizens, has ironically been strengthened by agreeing to give up its chemical weapons arsenal. “Assad now sees himself as an essential party to a long-term contract,” says Fred Hof, a former State Department official dealing with Syria and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
 
Assad continues to enjoy the strong backing of Russia and Iran, which may no longer be enamored with the Syrian leader but see no reason to jettison him without a viable alternative.
 
The splintering Syrian opposition, meanwhile, continues to fail to provide such an alternative. The fiercest fighters are connected to al-Qaida or other extreme Sunni fundamentalist movements that have no appeal to Syria’s religious and ethnic minorities, including Christians, Kurds, Shiites and of course, the ruling Alawites. The Obama administration and other “Friends of the Syrian People” have been struggling to bolster more moderate elements. But the United States has not followed through on pledges to train and arm substantial numbers of rebels, fearing that the weapons might fall into the wrong hands. That cedes the field to Gulf Arab backers who are less choosey about the recipients of lethal aid.
 
In such circumstances, Hof suggests that it might make sense to “pivot” at a prospective Geneva conference from discussing a transitional government for Syria to improving humanitarian access to Syrian civilians.
 
At the same time, countries such as Saudi Arabia – which has loudly condemned U.S. zig-zags over Syria policy – could provide more assistance to U.N. agencies struggling to meet the needs of Syrians both inside the country and in neighboring states. Otherwise, the future of the Syrian people will be even more at risk.

Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: PermReader
November 02, 2013 12:50 PM
Russian saying: the thief cries :stop thief! - Everybody is guilty for the Syrians`s sufferings but not the Islamists and the Islamic jihad!
We know how this blahs are named: the tokyia.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid