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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

'Exceptionally Lucky' US Boy Survives Flight in Wheel Well

The boy was unconscious for most of the flight, and appeared to be unharmed after enduring the extremely cold temperatures and lack of oxygen More

US Anti-Corruption Law Snags Major Tech Company

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in December, 1977 More

Cameron Criticized for Calling UK 'Christian Country'

Letter from scientists, academics and writers says the prime minister is fostering division by repeatedly referring to England as a 'Christian country' 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid