Three years ago on March 15, the Syrian people peacefully protested to demand their universal rights and freedoms. But in response came ruthless force, ever-increasing violence, and civil war.
Well over 100,000 people have since been killed and an estimated nine million driven from their homes. Communities have been threatened and attacked; and cities and villages have been reduced to ruins, along with much of Syria's cultural heritage. Acts of terrorism continue daily while serious crimes go unpunished.
There are currently more than 2.4 million refugees registered in the region: according to the UN Refugee Agency, about 932,000 in Lebanon; 613,000 in Turkey; 574,000 in Jordan; 223,000 in Iraq; and 134,000 in Egypt. This means that Syria's neighbours are straining under humanitarian, political, security, and socio-economic effects of the conflict.
The worst use of weapons of mass destruction against civilians, including children, in the 21st-century occurred in Syria this past year. Although the destruction of chemical weapons has been ordered by June 30th, it is only one third of the way completed, according to the Special Coordinator for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
In conflict situations, it is children who suffer most, and no child should ever face what the children of Syria are facing. They are forced to grow up faster than any child should; one in ten refugee children is now working, and one in every five Syrian girls in Jordan is forced into early marriage.
A new report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) shows that more than twice as many children are affected by the hostilities today than were 12 months ago; and that up to a million children are particularly hard hit, as they are trapped in areas that are under threat or that are hard to reach with humanitarian aid. In the most awful cases children and pregnant women have been purposely wounded or killed by snipers.
The same report estimates that a total of 5.5 million children have been exposed to the horrors of war, with two million in need of psychological support or treatment. In a recent World Vision report written by Syrian children, we hear in their voice how they have fallen behind in their education. They are also scarred by displacement, loss, and violence; 1.2 million children are now refugees living in camps and overwhelmed communities. Syrian children are at risk of becoming a lost generation, with cultural, economic, and educational implications for the country.
Syrian children need our help now, particularly, the "under-reached" one million children inside the country. They must be protected from exploitation and harm, and provided with psychological care. Investments must be made in their education, and support must be given to host communities and governments to lessen the economic and social impact on families.
Today, Syria is the world's biggest humanitarian and security crisis, with violence reaching inconceivable levels. What is needed now is for Syrian government forces and armed opposition groups to halt mass atrocity crimes, adhere to international humanitarian law, end the recruitment of children, and commit to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Both sides must facilitate immediate humanitarian access to civilian populations trapped inside Syria or displaced by fighting. That is, there must be an end to blocking of humanitarian assistance, humanitarian organizations must be allowed to reach all those who are suffering, and attacks on humanitarian workers and facilities must end.
And we must do more at home: in the face of the rapidly unfolding Syrian refugee crisis, will Canada accept more refugees than the paltry number of 1,300 announced, particularly as 17,000 Syrian immigrants have been admitted to Sweden as permanent residents since 2012?
And more concretely, will the Government continue its financial support to the people affected by the crisis in Syria? How will it work with its partners in the region to ensure that the $50 million allocated to the No Lost Generation initiative are spent in the most effective way? And will the Government consider increasing its commitments to the other two Level 3 emergencies in the Central African Republic and South Sudan?
The international community must strengthen its efforts to work towards a political solution to the Syrian civil war. It cannot afford to lose focus, as the children of Syria cannot afford another year of suffering, another year without education, healthcare, and protection. There are no enemy children, and we must do whatever it takes to save lives.
What is ultimately at risk is the loss of a generation with devastating consequences for the future of Syria and the region.