A decade after the start of the war, the majority of Syrian children don’t see a future in their home country, and many continue to feel unsafe in their new countries of residence.
A report by Save the Children released Tuesday found that 86 percent of Syrian refugee children displaced by the 10-year war would not want to return to Syria.
In a study exploring the experiences, mental health, and sense of belonging felt by 1,900 Syrian children in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and the Netherlands, the NGO found that 63 percent of children wanted to integrate in their new country of residence, while nearly a quarter (23 percent) wanted to live in a third country.
“We cannot go back to Syria, because there is war there and [my siblings] and I are afraid,” said a twelve-year old interviewee in Lebanon. “I am not hopeful. I am afraid because of the war in Syria and because of the blast here in Lebanon.”
Even though they don’t see a future in Syria, many children expressed that they struggled to feel safe in their new homes due to discrimination and lack of education: 44 percent of all children interviewed in the study had experienced discrimination (in Syria, the number was as high as 58 percent), and 42 percent were not attending school. Many children also did not believe that they would be able to realise their wishes for the future.
“Whether inside or outside Syria, children affected by this conflict are still struggling to feel at home where they are. This ten-year war has cost Syria’s young people their childhoods, but the world should not allow it to rob them of their future,” said Jeremy Stoner, Save the Children’s Regional Director for the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
“Protracted conflict has led to fear and pessimism about children’s ability to build their lives in a country scarred by war. Children need to feel safe; they need to feel that they belong and are connected to the communities they live in.”
In 2011, the Assad regime violently cracked down on popular demonstrations, which spiralled into a devastating war that has killed an estimated half a million people and displaced 6.7 million people within Syria, and 5.5 million outside the country.
For millions of children, war has been the only reality they have known, and continues to shape and limit their opportunities for education, growth, and sense of safety and belonging.
Those still in Syria continue to suffer from dire humanitarian conditions, including living under fear of attack and bombardment. Food insecurity is rampant, over a quarter of households report that children display signs of psychological distress, and 94 percent of school-aged children live in areas with “severe, extreme or catastrophic education conditions''.
The situation for children outside of Syria varies from place to place, but refugee children still face serious challenges, including extreme poverty, food insecurity, lack of legal residency and registration, violence, racism and language barriers.
The report encourages policymakers and humanitarian actors to prioritise helping children feel safe. "Given the right tools, children show high levels of willingness to overcome adversity and integrate into environments that allow them to develop and grow. Their voices need to be heard,” it says.
It underlines that states hosting Syrian refugees must uphold the principle of non-refoulement, refrain from calling Syria - or parts of it - “safe”; renew protection status, or provide asylum to those who need it; and increase opportunities for resettlement into third countries. It also calls for increased investment into mental health and psychosocial support services.
In Europe in particular, it calls for the development of transition schemes for children who are turning 18 and therefore “ageing out” of the existing protection systems, which may cause stress and unpredictability for children who have spent much of their life in displacement.
The report also notes that for those inside Syria, humanitarian assistance alone is insufficient considering the situation in the country after years of war, and states that the international community has to promote an end the conflict and foster an “environment of meaningful positive peace and investing in recovery”.
“Syrian children have a right to grow up in an environment where they are free from constant fear for their safety, are not forced to live in displacement and fear of further uprooting, and are no longer discriminated against simply because of where they come from,” it says.