THE BLOG

Five Years of Conflict in Syria - Children Deserve Better Than This

15/03/2016 17:39 GMT | Updated 16/03/2017 09:12 GMT

As I arrived at the border camp in northern Greece late yesterday, a sea of mud and tents under a cold grey sky, thousands of people had just left. Families were walking along the roadside, carrying whatever they could, with the children stumbling under heavy bags.

They had heard a rumour that it was possible to cross the border into the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia about 25 km away, across a fast-flowing cold river. After weeks stuck in limbo in appalling conditions at the camp in Idomeni following arbitrary border closure, some people decided to take their chances, carrying their babies on their backs across the river.

In the end, their efforts were in vain. The police stopped them at the other side and trucked them back into Greece in the middle of the night, dropping off frightened families on the roadside. The Save the Children team here worked through the night to deliver blankets and warm clothes to the soaking wet, freezing and exhausted children as they began the walk back to the camp.

I was expecting the conditions to be bad at Idomeni, but the scale of the suffering we saw yesterday, here in Europe, shocked me. Most of the families I met were from Syria, which marks an unhappy anniversary today - five years since the start of the conflict. They had fled unimaginable horrors in Syria, including living under siege, only to find themselves with nothing on a roadside in Greece.

The staff here warn that we will see more scenes like this, with people forced to take increasingly dangerous routes to try to continue their journeys as discussions continue among European leaders about how to solve the crisis. People who have escaped war are being treated as political bargaining chips rather than human beings. The image of women collapsing by the road in the rain last night, unable to go on any further, should spur Europe's governments to implement a more humane policy - one that has legal routes for those seeking asylum, including family reunification, at its core.

But we also need to tackle the root causes of the refugee crisis, the things that force people to flee in the first place. After five years of war in Syria, it's time to say enough is enough.

A few weeks ago, I was in Jordan at the Zaatari refugee camp where more than 80,000 Syrians live, more than half of them children. What struck me was that, compared to my previous visit two years ago, the conversations I had with people had moved on from the trauma of what they had experienced in Syria to the misery of life in the camp.

While huge progress has been made, Syrian refugees living in camps in the region often feel that they have no future. They spoke of the de-humanising effect of having no immediate work or prospects. Far too many children are dropping out of school to work to support their families, something they wouldn't have had to do back home in Syria.

We need to tackle the crisis on multiple fronts - ramping up diplomatic efforts to bring the war to a peaceful end, improving life in the camps in the Middle East so that people don't feel the need to put their children on boats, and implementing a humane asylum policy for those that have made it to Europe. The Syrian children I have met in Greece and Jordan over the last few weeks, who are bright and hopeful but have already suffered so much, deserve better than this.