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The children of Syria

May 16th, 2013

If things are very bad in Jordan they are even worse in Lebanon, I discovered when I visited the Bekaa Valley. In the few short months since I was last there there has been a palpable rise in tension caused by the burden on the local community of so many refugees streaming across the border, producing increased competition for work and accommodation.

But of everything I have seen it is the fate of the children which most affected me. Everywhere I went I saw them and while they were all in good spirits I must confess for me, as a grandmother, this is the hardest part to deal with. The prospect of these bright-eyed kids not just losing their childhood but facing a future without hope is heartbreaking.

I met 13-year-olds who have become the main breadwinners for their stressed families. Kids like Ahmed who gets paid two and a half euros a day to carry out painting jobs and Aisha who does menial labour on behalf of her handicapped mother and younger sister.

Then there were the much younger ones, running wild in makeshift camps which – in the pre-civil war days – were used by their fathers when they came to Lebanon to do seasonal work in the fields of the Bekaa. Now these tented communities – living under coffee sacks stitched together – are becoming permanent homes lacking any basic services and, crucially, no schooling.

Lebanon is a small and fragile country of just four million people but the arrival of so many Syrians is placing a huge stress on the delicate fabric of its society. Around half a million people have sought refuge here. By year end, on current trends, this will have risen to a million – the majority of them children. That means more than 500,000 children requiring school – in a country where the entire national school role only reaches half a million.

I can say with the benefit of being a first-hand witness that the aid agencies which we fund are doing a heroic job of not just saving lives but making these lives worth living. But the challenges are enormous. This is the biggest humanitarian crisis that we have seen in a decade and, by some distance, it has not yet reached its peak.

The international community needs to wake up to what is going on. The sums of money which Lebanon and Jordan need right now are vast and we all have a duty to go the extra mile.

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