BEIRUT: Lebanon should not be made to struggle with the refugee crisis on its own, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow said, as the U.N. agency warned that Syria is at risk of losing a whole generation.
“Lebanon has the respect and also the understanding of the world that this [situation] is a burden on the country,” she said in an interview with The Daily Star. “Clearly, Lebanon cannot do this alone.”
Farrow was speaking on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the Syrian uprising, which has so far claimed more than 70,000 lives and displaced roughly 3 million people both internally and externally, according to a UNICEF report released this week.
As of January, 800,000 of the 2 million displaced within Syria were under 14. More than half of the 1 million refugees that have left Syria are under 18, according to a UNHCR estimate.
“UNICEF has said that this is a children’s emergency,” Farrow said by phone from New York.
“Children are the first victims of the damage [of war], and this includes infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, health centers, water and sanitation works. The children in Syria are being killed, maimed, tortured, raped and orphaned – girls are especially vulnerable.”
The UNICEF report said one in five schools in Syria had either been damaged or was now sheltering internally displaced families.
“Children are paying the heaviest price for the ongoing conflict,” the actress-turned-activist said. “They are arriving from Syria having witnessed unspeakable violence.”
Around half of the refugees registered and awaiting registration in Lebanon are children, according to the UNICEF report. The U.N. children’s agency currently provides services such as clean drinking water, learning programs, psychosocial services and vaccinations against common diseases such as measles and polio.
But with its appeal for $195 million only 20 percent funded, UNICEF says it will have to halt a number of key life-saving schemes by the end of this month. This mirrors a much wider funding problem – the majority of the promised aid from, for example, the Kuwait conference is yet to materialize.
“I don’t know why” the money isn’t coming through, Farrow said, “but I know what will happen: Desperately needed services will cease. Even individuals can give to UNICEF directly, and a little bit will go a long way.”
“People are experiencing financial difficulties within their own countries ... But it’s not as bad as it is for the Syrian children.”
Two years on, there is an increasing feeling of weariness among the international community about a conflict that seems to have no end and no solution in sight.
When people ask her why they should give money to aid agencies involved in the Syrian conflict, Farrow said there was one story in particular from her January trip to Lebanon that she often told them.
“I met a woman called Hannah,” recounted Farrow, whose husband and three small children took five Syrian families into their four-room house “because she said she thinks of all people as human family.”
“Most of my children are not related to me by blood but by something deeper,” Farrow said, “and I hope my children think the same way.”
Farrow, who was married to U.S. director Woody Allen, has 13 living children, nine of whom are adopted.
“There were 41 people living in Hannah’s house,” she added. “That’s extraordinary generosity.”
But she admitted the capacity of the Lebanese population to cater to the growing numbers of refugees was reaching its limit. “The strain is obvious and families are coming to some of the poorest places [in Lebanon]. It’s a difficult situation and tensions are mounting, I saw this myself when I was there.”
In Wadi Khaled, Farrow said, a woman told her: “We just want to go home, and above all we want peace.”
“This echoes eloquently what I heard in the Bekaa Valley,” she explained. “Again and again people said, ‘We don’t want handouts or to burden people.’
“One little boy said to me, ‘The sky is raining fire down on us, we want to go home but we can’t.’”