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

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

Video Kenyans Lament Al-Shabab's Recruitment of Youths

VOA travels to Isiolo, where residents share their fears, struggles to get loved ones back from Somalia-based militant group More

This US Epidemic Keeps Getting Worse

One in 4 Americans suffers from this condition 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.
A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensionsi
X
May 26, 2015 11:11 PM
When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs