In interviews, UN shines light on trauma, horrors of young Syrian refugees

By Jonathan Fowler, AFP

GENEVA — Syrian refugee children are paying a cruel price as civil war rips their country apart, the United Nations warned Friday in a report with heart-rending testimony from youngsters driven from their homes. “This is impossible to forget. It’s like someone has stabbed me with a knife when I remember,” 15-year-old Taha, who saw seven corpses near his house in Syria, told interviewers with the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR). He and scores of other Syrian refugee children in Jordan and Lebanon were interviewed for a 60-page UNHCR report, starkly laying out the trauma of young exiles from a conflict that has killed over 120,000 people. The children’s last names were not revealed, to protect them and their families. “It is important that this human face of the refugee crisis is not forgotten,” Volker Turk, UNHCR head of international protection, told journalists in Geneva. “And if you look at what children face, they illustrate very strongly what this crisis is all about,” he said. Children make up around half of the more than 2.2 million Syrians who have fled their homeland, according to U.N. numbers of registered refugees. Syria’s neighbors meanwhile estimate some three million Syrians have already left the war-ravaged country, which means around 1.5 million Syrian children are living as refugees.

“Looking back over the last 20 years, the Syria refugee crisis for us is unparalleled since the Rwanda crisis,” Turk said, referring to the 1994 genocide in the African nation.

He pointed out that children also represent about half of the 6.5 million people driven from their homes but who remain inside Syria. ‘Blood up to people’s knees’ In the report, the children describe in words and with drawings the horrors they have witnessed and the turmoil within. “There is blood up to people’s knees in Syria,” said 17-year-old Sala. And 16-year-old Maher, who was tortured in Syria and whose father remains missing there, said, “My first wish would be to go back to Syria and to have my father released.”