Number of Syrian child refugees reaches one million, says U.N.

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The number of Syrian children forced to flee their conflict-ravaged homeland has reached one million, children constitute half of all the refugees driven abroad by the more than two-year old war, the United Nations said on Friday.

“The number of Syrian children who are now refugees has reached more than one million,” regional spokesperson for the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, Peter Kessler, told Al Arabiya English.

Kessler urged the international community as well as private individuals to help what he described as a “tsunami of people crossing over borders.

“We have about 1.9 million Syrian refugees in the region, like the population of Birmingham, a city in the UK.”

The refugees have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and North Africa, the UNHCR says. They include 40,000 Syrian Kurds who flooded into Iraqi Kurdistan in the past week.

Lebanon, which has the highest number of Syrian refugees, hosts about 300,000 Syrian children with more than 2,000 of them having crossed the border into the neighboring country unaccompanied by their parents or separated from their families, Roberta Russo, UNHCR’s spokesperson in Lebanon, told Al Arabiya English.

“The number of Syrian refugees [in Lebanon] currently enrolled in schools are only 30,000,” Russo added.

However, it is expected that more than 300,000 Syrian refugee students will be enrolled in Lebanon’s education system by the end of 2013, meaning there will be more Syrian refugee students than their peers with Lebanese citizenship, the spokesperson said.

While Lebanon is working closely with the U.N. refugee agency to open schools for the Syrian children and offering accelerated class for them, Russo said that the agency needs money and personnel to cover costs for the “traumatized” children, who she said could be “a lost generation.”

Only 26 percent of UNHCR’s program for Syrian refugees is funded. The U.N. refugee body, which has a budget of $400 million, is seeking $1.7 billion to cover the costs of the refugees.

“What is different in Lebanon is that we do not have camps- a big challenge. Families are living in apartments,” Russo said. “Now we are seeing families in tented settlements all over the countries, as well as the phenomenon of street children who could be exposed to violence.”

Also, within Syria, another two million Syrian minors are uprooted and are often attacked or recruited as fighters, an act that violates international humanitarian law, UNHCR and UNICEF announced in a statement.

“The youth of Syria are losing their homes, their family members and their futures. Even after they have crossed a border to safety, they are traumatized, depressed and in need of a reason for hope,” Reuters quoted Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, as saying in a statement.

According to the UNHCR, a child refugee is defined as any person who is below the age of 18.

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