NEW YORK: More than half the 642,000 refugees who have sought refuge from the Syrian conflict in neighboring countries are children and the number of people fleeing could almost double by June, according to a senior U.N. official.
Panos Moumtzis, the U.N. Refugee Agency regional coordinator for Syrian refugees, said plans were in place to help 4 million people in Syria – 2 million who had been displaced and 2 million who need help in their homes – and up to 1.1 million refugees.
“We’re really talking about helping a quarter of the Syrian population. One in four Syrians is in need of humanitarian assistance,” Moumtzis told the International Peace Institute in New York late Thursday.
The United Nations hopes to raise $1.5 billion to fund Syria aid assistance at a donors conference in Kuwait on Jan. 30.
“Refugees pour across the borders day and night,” he said. “More than half of them are children. This is a children’s refugee crisis. It’s heartbreaking when we see these children arriving and particularly what we see in the days that follow.”
“Many of them are withdrawn, we hear from the parents about bedwetting. These children have experienced and witnessed some of the most horrific scenes, seeing their parents or loved ones killed, their homes destroyed, their schools affected,” he said.
Moumtzis spoke of one woman crossing the border into one of Syria’s neighbors in the middle of the night carrying one son under each arm and then waiting for her elder son to arrive.
“She waited and she waited and the son never made it. His body was brought later on by some people who came behind her,” Moumtzis said, without elaborating on how the boy had died.
“Most of the kids come with an adult ... most of the times it’s at least one of the parents,” he said. “It’s extremely difficult for these kids to articulate what they have seen.”