THE BLOG

Children of Syria: A Precious New Life

20/06/2013 11:36 BST | Updated 20/08/2013 10:12 BST
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Today is World Refugee Day. Something that may have passed me by previously, but not this year. It's been four months since I got back from Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan. It's there where I first had my heart broken by the desperate plight of Syria's children.

Forced from their homes by violence, children have fled over Syria's borders in their hundreds of thousands to seek safety. Not a day has gone by when I haven't thought of them and everything they've lost; indeed Syria's children are at real risk of becoming a lost generation.

Last month I returned to the region, to the Domiz camp in Iraq to find out what life was like for the children who Unicef is supporting as part of our new fundraising appeal. It's a sobering thought that Syria's children are seeking safety in a country like Iraq, with its own history of violence. I meet a Unicef expert on water and sanitation who tells me there should be one toilet for every 20 people here. In fact we are not even close to that target. There isn't a proper drainage system either, so people have had to dig out new trenches for dirty water and sewage. Children play there, because there isn't anywhere else for them to go.

It's an understatement to say that overcrowding is a problem here. It's true in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan too. Many thousands of people continue to flee Syria each day, every one of them desperate to escape the horrific crisis. And there are still 3.1million children in Syria who need aid, many who have seen unimaginable violence and lost family members and friends. The humanitarian situation is catastrophic and is continuing to deteriorate.

It is summed up in many ways by a tiny baby, given to me by his mother, who wanted him to be on camera! I held him in my arms and tried to comfort him while he cried, so my colleague Jon Sparkes could record his piece for the camera capturing footage for the appeal.

There's something incredibly powerful about a newborn baby; something about their vulnerability, their dependence. As we held him, Jon and I were close to tears, because of all that we'd seen in this place over those few days. Overcrowded tents, not enough water, children playing in sewage, children who don't have enough to eat, children who can't go to school, children who are frightened by all they've seen.

As the baby moved towards sleep, Jon and I tried to express to each other how abhorrent it was that this tiny new life should be born into such a cruel world. That it is fundamentally wrong this little boy was born a refugee, with only a tent to call home. As you look into the eyes of a little baby, who should have had everything to hope and dream for, you know this little boy's future is bleak, with a desperate lack of opportunity; he cannot choose what his life will be. Mums and dads everywhere want to comfort and protect their children. But Syria's parents can do neither in the way they want.

I have seen desperate situations in slums, refugee camps and remote mountain villages before. And I have cried before. I have returned to our base each evening and wept for the inadequacy of a world who allows this to happen every day to its children. But I have never before been moved like this while meeting a child. In a famine, a flood, tsunami or earthquake the world takes notice, at least for a while. But who knows that these children are here? They are the seemingly unimportant. The overlooked. The forgotten. The lost.

I watched Jon turn to the camera and say: "I'm finding this so hard. I'm asking you to help the children of Syria, because if we don't, who will?"

I hope the appeal film captured the power of this moment, and that other parents, or anyone who cannot bear the thought of a child not having a cot, food or shelter is moved to respond. I will never forget this moment. I will never forget how this tiny, sleeping boy and all he represents moved us in this way. I am not embarrassed or ashamed for anything other than the fact I need to do more to help these children.

The challenges at Domiz are great, but they're more than matched by the absolute determination of the Unicef staff on the ground here. Working with partners and other agencies, Unicef is ensuring there is an adequate supply of clean water, more toilets, and more school buildings so children can find a proper place to learn and play. The dedication of the staff is incredible. Sadly their dedication isn't matched by funding to help these children. Unicef in Iraq only has 35% of the funds it needs for the rest of the year.

As I hold this little boy, Jon and I realise we haven't come to make a TV appeal; we haven't come to report on Unicef's interventions in the camp. We've come to see this baby to realise for ourselves that he and thousands more like him deserve the very best. Not just a home, food and safe clean water; but an education, a childhood, a future of hopes and dreams and opportunities. Just in the last six months the number of Syrian refugees in Iraq has tripled. And Unicef will not stop our work until the world has achieved that for every little boy and girl, wherever they live.

Unicef desperately needs help and donations to ensure that a generation of children is not lost to war. So please, before you move on, take a moment to consider your response to this little sleeping baby boy.

For more information on Unicef's work inside Syria and in neighbouring countries, click here