“Heart-breaking images of children’s bodies washing up on the shores of Europe… lying suffocated in the backs of trucks crossing borders… being passed over barbed wire fences by desperate parents. As the migrant and refugee crisis in Europe deepens, these will not be the last shocking images to ricochet around the world on social media, on our televisions screens and on the front pages of our newspapers. But it is not enough for the world to be shocked by these images. Shock must be matched by action.”
These are the words of UNICEF’s Executive Director, Anthony Lake, last week. I couldn’t agree more.
“For the plight of these children is neither by their choice nor within their control. They need protection. They have a right to protection,” he added.
Here is a deeply shocking fact about the war in Syria: More than half of those fleeing from it are children. I repeat: More than half.
These children and their families need help, and they need it now. The vast majority of those fleeing the conflict are still within Syria’s borders. About one third are in the neighbouring countries. Only a fraction has made it to Europe.
While on the move—whether because of the war in Syria, other conflicts or poverty—children face specific vulnerabilities, especially when deprived of a supportive family environment. They are entitled to special protection and assistance. We must make every effort to prevent the abuse and exploitation of these children. We must help families stay together.
We must do much more. And we certainly can.
As the debates on policies proceed, we must never lose sight of the deeply human nature of this crisis and others like it.
Sigríður is the Communication and Advocacy Director at UNICEF Iceland. She wrote the book ‘Ríkisfang: Ekkert’ (“Citizenship: None”), about Palestinian refugees who were granted asylum in Akranes, Iceland.
You may also be interested in this earlier Grapevine interview with her: Civil War In Paradise.