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Relief efforts of the UN’s child agency to be extended in Syria

The government in Syria has agreed to let the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) extend its humanitarian operations in the country, in a move which the organisation hopes will save tens of thousands of lives.

This week, UNICEF’s chief, Anthony Lake, visited a refugee camp for Syrians in Jordan, before making the announcement about the new agreement.

Following the widespread unrest and violence which is believed to have claimed the lives of more than 30,000 people, UNICEF has increased the number of its staff in Syria. Under the new agreement, UNICEF’s chief said the organisation now hopes to establish local offices in various areas of the country and will work with a number of local partners, including more than 40 Syrian civil groups and the Syrian Red Crescent.

With winter approaching and an estimated one million people displaced, the organisation is eager to extend its help beyond Damascus in order to reach vulnerable and needy families in areas affected by the conflict. For example, within a couple of months, UNICEF aims to vaccinate one million children against common illnesses such as measles. Speaking to Reuters, Anthony Lake said “the Syrian government has agreed...to allow us to work with a number of local groups ...to address the needs of the people”.

Already, the UN’s child agency has opened an office in the port city of Tartous and is talking with the Syrian authorities about setting up an office in Homs, where many civilian casualties have occurred. There are no figures on the number of children who have died in the conflict, but UNICEF’s chief says “clearly thousands of children have been killed and....hundreds of thousands have been uprooted”. In the camp he visited in Jordan, there are around 30,000 refugees.

There is funding to support those who have fled the country, but Lake said the organisation also had to help the many women and children who were sheltering in schools, mosques and other public buildings throughout Syria. He said that despite the escalation of violence, it was not good enough to “throw up our hands and say.... there is nothing to be done”. UNICEF’s chief highlighted the huge need in broad terms for sanitation, as well as for the education of displaced children, though he admitted there were significant difficulties with around one in ten schools in the country damaged. But he expressed his concern that unless there was support for the young generation, to educate them and help them overcome psychological damage, then new “hatreds” would develop, ensuring the replication of the conflict down future generations.

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