An exodus with little hope – report finds crisis of unaccompanied minors fleeing Syria

An exodus with little hope – report finds crisis of unaccompanied minors fleeing Syria

A young Syrian refugee at school in Ramtha, Jordan. Credit: Kevin Jones/CNA.
A young Syrian refugee at school in Ramtha, Jordan. Credit: Kevin Jones/CNA.

.- The countries neighboring Syria are swamped with millions of refugees from its civil war which creates special risks for young children, according to a new report by the U.S. bishops.

More than half of the 3.8 million Syrian refugees have been children fleeing the civil war and the onslaught of Islamic State, said the bishops’ report “Refuge & Hope in the Time of ISIS.”

“The number of unaccompanied children and other vulnerable children from Syria and elsewhere is rising, yet there are few protection mechanisms in place to identify and rescue them from harm,” the director of the U.S. Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, Nathalie Lummert, stated.

“What we are seeing is an exodus of the next generation in Syria, with little hope for their future.”

The report was based on a visit to Turkey, Greece, and Bulgaria – all countries affected by the Syrian refugee crisis – by a delegation of U.S. bishops back in September and October. The bishops met with refugees, authorities, social workers, and “victims of trafficking, torture, trauma, gender-based violence, and religious persecution.”

The crisis has been compounded by the onslaught of Islamic State forces and has now reached a “tipping point,” said Anastasia Brown, interim executive director for the bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services. The international community must intervene, the report insisted.

In Turkey, the hardest-hit of the host countries mentioned in the report, “some of the most vulnerable, including unaccompanied minors, fall through the cracks.”

Women and children refugees faced special challenges, from the threat of human trafficking, to child labor, to a long-term lack of education.

The number of unaccompanied refugee children is “likely much higher” than reported because of the strain the refugee crisis has taken on surrounding countries and their ability to identify and care for the children.

Those children who are identified and housed are “largely left to fend for themselves,” the report continued. The unaccompanied children end up “out of sight and out of mind” through lack of oversight.

In one story featured, a 14 year-old girl arrived at the Greek border with an older man she claimed was her brother. In an interview with an NGO, however, she broke down and revealed that her mother sold her into slavery to pay a smuggler.

On their own, the children are even more susceptible to xenophobic violence and being trafficked into Europe.

Turkey presents especially grotesque circumstances for young refugees. One Afghan boy interviewed said that other boy refugees fell into the sex trafficking industry. Many young women are sold for sex slavery or forced marriages.

“The men use the females and discard them after a short period of time – disgraced and shamed,” the report stated. Turkish brothels have popped up “consisting solely of Syrian refugee females.”

Furthermore, the host countries have not built a path to integration or resettlement for the masses of unaccompanied children, leaving them without much of a future. “There is virtually no access to resettlement or other durable solutions for these children,” the report stated.

Another major problem child refugees face is lack of education whether because of legal obstacles or children having to work to help support their family.

Turkey in particular offers an “extremely serious lack of formal education,” where less than one in three refugee children living outside a camp attends school. Some refugees have not attended school in four years, putting the next generation at a serious disadvantage when they enter the adult labor force.

The international community must mobilize to aid the beleaguered refugees, insisted Bishop Eusebio Elizondo Almaguer, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chair of the bishops’ Committee on Migration, in a Jan. 31 letter to the “refugees and All Coming to Your Aid.”

The bishop implored “President Obama and other concerned world leaders” to work for a solution where refugees could return home.

“We also advocate for alternative durable solutions, such as resettlement, for those who need immediate relief or for whom such return would not be safe and humane,” he added.

Tags: Human trafficking, Syrian Civil War, Islamic State, Syrian refugees

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