900,000 Syrians take refuge in Turkey: UNICEF

Photo: 900,000 Syrians take refuge in Turkey: UNICEF / Turkey

The estimated number of Syrian refugees that have taken shelter in Turkey is nearly 900,000, 700,000 of whom are living outside of camps, a U.N. official has said, while noting that the exile has especially affected children.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), working together with the Prime Ministry's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD), is trying to provide education to Syrian children in Turkey.

"The most challenging part so far is how to reach Syrians living out of camps," UNICEF Representative for Turkey Dr. Ayman A. Abulaban told the Hurriyet Daily News in a recent interview.

In three years of conflict in Syria, 6 million Syrian children, both inside and outside of Syria, have been affected, Abulaban said, noting that more than 10,000 out of 100,000 Syrians killed in the country were children.

UNICEF is seeking to raise awareness on the problems of children who have suffered over the course of the three-year-old civil war.

Syrian children must remain at the top of the agenda of all those who are doing political work at the moment, Abulaban said.

"Children should not be a victim or a failure of politics, or a failure of the international world to find a solution," he said.

The U.N. official stressed that the rights of children in Syria were being violated and that they were even being deliberately killed in some cases. "Sometimes children are killed because they are children. There are reports that children are killed under torture, by all parties, but mainly the regime," he said.

Children are being taken to the prisons for any reason, regardless of whether they have been involved in clashes, he said.

Abulaban also noted some reports that fighting groups had recruited children. "The official stance of the (opposition) coalition is that they are against this. The same stance comes from the government. But we know that this is not always been respected on both sides," Abulaban said.

"Their rights are being exploited physically and sexually. There have been cases of rape," Abulaban said.

"Because of this war, children have become too old, too soon. When they lose their father, children step up to take care of the family. They are leaving their schools; they are getting into labor at an early age and getting married earlier. They are losing their childhood and getting old sooner."

Abulaban pointed at two areas in which children suffer in Syria: the health system, which he said had collapsed in most areas and led to diseases, such as polio, as well as the education system.

Almost 3.5 million people have fled Syria, with nearly 1 million in Turkey, he said, praising Ankara for its "excellent response."

In collaboration with the Turkish government, UNICEF is building schools and providing training for Syrian teachers both in the camps and outside.

In Turkey, the majority of teachers are volunteers who used to be teachers in Syria, he said.

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