7 December 2016
Your Excellency Madame Daniella Schaat,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Friends of the girls and boys of Syria
It is a real honour to be with you today and get the opportunity to tell you about the plight of Syrian children.
It is however not at all a pleasure to confront you with their brutal reality. But we have to, and I feel privileged to have a big number of genuinely interested and engaged people here this morning, not least yourself Excellency.
I feel privileged to be in Germany, as your country has been amongst the most generous and most courageous in its solidarity with the people of Syria.
Today, four in five Syrian children need urgent humanitarian assistance.
In addition to these six million children in need inside the country, there are more than 2.5 million children living as refugees in neighbouring countries.
1.7 million children are out of school; over 7000 schools have been destroyed, damaged or used for other purposes including for hosting military.
We estimate that half a million children are living in besieged areas with limited or no access to any assistance.
Every single day we are informed of or face one or several boys and girls being killed or maimed. We speak out but we are running out of words to describe the children’s suffering, to describe our dismay. This has been going on for almost 6 years with no end in sight.
Children in Syria are asking WHY? We ask WHY?
All parties to the conflict have responsibility for this unspeakable tragedy. And I wonder if they still have words to justify the continued grave child rights violations.
Beyond each of the numbers I just quoted, there are children who have stories, hopes, dreams and lives turned up-side-down. Behind each number there are loving and caring parents, grandparents; committed teachers or health workers, etc.
Parents who feel deeply guilty of sending their children to school; their children killed while sitting classes.
Doctors who have to give up on children’s survival, not because of their condition being fatal. Rather because they lack the life-saving medicines.
Hamza, who is 13, now lives as a refugee in Lebanon. He says “We had a beautiful life in Syria, it was like heaven. We would go out, enjoy ourselves and would get together with our families”.
Moheb who was displaced in Aleppo left his home, his bedroom and books behind. He misses his window, where he used to sit and watch the world.
A few days ago, I briefed the UN Security Council on the situation of children in Syria. This was an extraordinary opportunity to speak on behalf of millions of children at the highest level possible.
I walked away from that meeting with only one thought:
“The World has failed the children of Syria!”
Since the crisis began, the children of Syria have witnessed unspeakable horrors. They have literally come under attack, lost their childhood. Tens of thousands of children, some only a few days old have been killed, many more were injured, and some were left with lifelong disabilities that nothing will cure.
Millions have been uprooted, some five or six times.
Too many have been deprived of basic medical care and safe drinking water. Too many have witnessed the death of their loved ones and the destruction of the places they once thought are safe, the places that should be safe: homes, schools, playgrounds, markets, parks and places of worship.
As the war enters its sixth year we see families being pushed to the brink inside Syria and in neighbouring countries. Families tell us that they’ve had to resort to extreme coping mechanisms that no child should go through. More girls are marrying early, more children are fighting an adults’ war and at a much younger age and more boys and girls are working in the fields, in cafés, in workshops, begging on the street just to bring food to their families.
The world has failed the boys and girls in Syria. But it should not continue doing so. It is our choice whether there will be a lost generation.
UNICEF alone will not stop the war, but we ensure every day that millions of Syrian children keep a ray of hope; keep dreaming.
I am amazed at the determination, persistence and dignity each Syrian child has wherever they are. The spark in their eyes says it all……: we are determined to learn, we are determined to keep going, we are determined to make our dreams come true.
In a recent visit to Lebanon, where the majority of German funding was received, I visited a school with double shifts for children. There, I met smiley children, happy to finally be back at school. Some had lost up to five years of schooling.
A few months ago, we asked a group of children about their aspirations and their hopes.
Saja who lost her leg in Aleppo, continues to play football with one leg and says “I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything at all”.
Besan, now living in Jordan is adamant to stay at school because it’s the place that protects her from marrying early. Firas dreams of becoming a pilot so he can fly people to his country, Syria. While Ahmad, asks a very wise question to the adults, to all of us “What the point of all these wars?”
Through UNICEF’s programmes inside Syria and in the countries hosting Syrian refugees, we are able to support children like Saja, Besan and Ahmad. We are able to help them get the skills they need to rebuild their shattered communities when peace comes back to Syria. We are able to help them keep some of their hopes and aspirations.
Inside Syria, UNICEF should be proud of having stopped a polio outbreak through investment in vaccination. This year alone we were able to reach close to 2 million children with lifesaving vaccines. Through our Self Learning Programme thousands of displaced children are able to continue learning. In Aleppo, it is UNICEF that has been able to ensure that all people continue having access to drinking water, sometimes putting the life of our colleagues at huge risk. As the temperatures drop, many of our colleagues working on the winter response: giving children warm clothes and shoes, heating for schools and cash assistance. Children distressed by the fighting and the attacks are given back some sense of normalcy through play in our child friendly spaces across the country.
We are able to do all of this with thanks to contributions of the Government and people of Germany and their very generous contribution to UNICEF. Since 2012, when the war escalated, Germany has been contributing more than 470 million US$ and becoming the second biggest donor of UNICEF.
We are ever grateful for this generous contribution.
Children are asking us every day for the war in Syria to stop. UNICEF will never give up; never turn our back. Our voice and our assistance is however as strong as you would want it to be!
Let me conclude therefore by calling upon the government of Germany to continue engaging at the highest levels for the interests of Syrian children to prevail in any forum that is genuinely meant to help Syria forward.
Let me conclude by calling upon the continued solidarity and generosity of the government and the German people. Every Euro spent on children is an investment in their future; an investment in Syria’s future; an investment in a safer and better world all together.