Long-term conflict in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have put millions of children and families at risk. Millions have been forced from their homes, children have lost parents and other family members, and far too many children are unable to access their right to education.
In Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya alone, 9,000 schools have been destroyed or are occupied by displaced civilians or armed groups.
“Many observers are afraid this will be a ‘lost generation’”, says Alia Al Dalli, SOS Children’s Villages’ International Director for the Middle East and North Africa Region. “Another concern is psychological trauma, as children in war situations often face a very unstable environment of displacement, abuse, trafficking, exploitation and other risks.”
Girls are also marrying at a much earlier age, even in early adolescence, as some parents see marriage as a way of protecting their children and of alleviating economic pressures. A lot of girls do not receive education beyond elementary school. Boys face violence and coercion to join criminal gangs.
In order to have a chance to succeed in life, children need to be safe and to have access to their rights as children. Above all, “a child needs care, attention, and love,” says Ms Al Dalli.
A focus on children in emergencies
This is where organisations like SOS Children’s Villages come in – child protection is at the core of SOS Children’s Villages’ work in humanitarian crises. Some aid organisations may focus primarily on providing material aid such as water and food, or shelter and security; SOS Children’s Villages provides support in these areas too, but specializes in the protection of children and supporting families to be able to stay together during crises. These efforts include care for unaccompanied and separated children in Interim Care Centres and SOS villages, Child Friendly Spaces for children and their parents, and psychological and social support.
Partnerships are essential in emergency responses. In collaboration with other organisations and partners, SOS Children’ Villages supports families with what they need to survive, to stay together and to recover from emergencies. “Working together with the UN and other NGOs adds value to our work and it allows for synergies and to build on each other’s competences,” Ms Al Dalli says.
In the MENA region, SOS Children’s Villages is in a unique position to help. “We are very well integrated in the countries where we work: the national associations have existed for decades, and are well respected in the country,” she explains.
Child refugee at the Child Friendly Space in Tabanovce, Macedonia
But children’s needs have not received enough consideration in emergency responses. “When we look back to the 1980s and 1990s, refugee camps were set up without regard for gender considerations, for example,” Ms Al Dalli continues. “With time and with a lot of advocacy, things changed. There's a lot of work that needs to be done along those lines regarding children, and, particularly, unaccompanied children.”
Challenges in the conflict areas
In SOS Children’s Villages’ work in the region, humanitarian and development work interface and overlap. SOS Interim Care Centres set up in humanitarian emergencies, for instance, work in a similar way to an SOS Children’s Village. Children are not expected to stay there in the long run, however, so SOS Children’s Villages works to reunite them with their families(whenever possible), or to find permanent family placements for them. Immediate emergency support is combined with longer-term perspectives.
For more information on what SOS Children’s Villages is doing to respond to the refugee crisis, and to contribute to our efforts, click here.