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UNICEF: 8,000 Syrian children cross the border into neighbouring countries unaccompanied

Source : Middle East Monitor | 21 Feb 2014

While the staff at UN organisations have confirmed that the Syrian child Marwan "did not cross the Jordanian border alone and that he was 20 feet away from his family", UNICEF also revealed that "about 8,000 out of the one million Syrian children who have fled to neighbouring countries have crossed the border alone since the beginning of the crisis."

The photo of four-year-old Marwan that was published by Arab and international media gained great interest and sympathy from the public when he was reported to have "crossed into Jordan alone after crossing the desert to flee Syria and being separated from his family."

However, Jordan's UNHCR head Andrew Harper set the story straight when tweeted that: "the child had [only] temporarily become separated from his family, and was walking with a group of Syrians fleeing to Jordan. The child crossed the border with his family, and in the photograph, he was only 20 feet away from his family."

In addition, UNICEF spokesperson for the Middle East and North Africa, Juliet Toma told Al-Ghad newspaper that "the information posted about the child crossing the border alone was not true," while also pointing out that official statistics show that 8,000 out of the one million children who cross the border to flee the crisis did so alone, without being accompanied by their families.

Toma further explained that: "The majority of these children are adolescents, between the ages of 12 and 18, who flee from the extremely harsh conditions in their country either because their parents were killed, or to escape recruitment from armed groups, or to find a job opportunity to support their families."

She also said that the story of each child reflects the crisis suffered by both children and families, noting that this group is most in need of support, as children suffer the deepest from the crisis.

As for the children who cross into Jordan unaccompanied, Toma explained that UNICEF first works on registering them and providing basic aid, such as food, clothes and shelter, and then begins searching for their families and reuniting them. If they are unable to do so, then they are put in safe accommodations, mostly likely in the Zaatari refugee camp.

She added that, "psychological support is given to these children as their mental state is usually bad due to the conditions they have suffered and the reasons behind seeking refuge."

The number of Syrian refugees in Jordan is estimated to be about 600,000, with over half of them being children. UNICEF is working on providing protection for them through psychological and social programmes, as well as temporary care for unaccompanied minors, along with sanitation, water, education, health and food.

A report issued by the organisation last year titled "Syria's Children: A lost generation?" warned of the deteriorating situation for Syrian children both inside and outside Syria due to the ongoing conflict, noting that "the children are paying the heaviest price for the conflict in Syria."

According to UNICEF, 57 per cent of Syrian refugees are children, 20 per cent of whom are under the age of five.

The organisation also issued another report on the situation for Syrian children in Jordan, warning against the "decline in the means of protection, the subjection of women and children to violence, maltreatment, neglect and exploitation, in addition to claims of Syrian children seeking refuge in Jordan after being recruited by armed groups".

The organisation's report "Shattered lives" revealed that there has been "an increase in the number of cases where children are separated from their families and caregivers".