Helping Refugee Children

When I wrote my chapter on neglected and orphaned children for Suffer the Children, I devoted only a few paragraphs at the end to Syria's child refugees. Forced to flee from the violence in their own streets, these children weren't technically neglected by their families. Many were orphaned, but sorting them out of the human flood was difficult at best. And, as I wrote then, the public was running hot and cold on the whole issue of refugee relief.

Unfortunately the refugee population has only grown, as have the problems related to providing for them. According to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, more than 5 million Syrians have registered as refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and North Africa. Of those millions, nearly 50% are minors; 33% are under the age of 12. That same report reveals that only 10% of these refugees are currently housed in camps. The rest are trying to survive in cities and the countryside; many are trying to go "underground." Always on the move to avoid officials, their day-to-day existence is precarious at best. A UNHCR online exhibit, "Where the Children Sleep," captures the tragedy of these refugees--especially the children.  Even more tragic, Europol, the EU's police intelligence unit, estimates that "around 10,000" unaccompanied refugee children have gone missing in Europe in just two years. Many believe that the smugglers they paid to bring them across the Mediterranean sold them to traffickers for the sex or labor trade. A recent study, Emergency within an Emergency, from Harvard's FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, exposes this seamy reality in Greece's cities and migrant camps. In the first ten months of 2016, more than 10,000 children applied for asylum in this ancient country. By December, only 11% of those children were successfully relocated to other countries; the rest remained stranded. Violence, according to the report, is rampant among this population. Many children have resorted to survival sex (I frankly can't believe I even have to type those last two words! Survival sex for a child?--I've worked on the issue of child trafficking for years, but I still hate that phrase). Many are trafficked. "A migrant told me that children were 'fresh meat," said a social worker in Athens who was interviewed for the study. 

Syrians are not the only refugees who are in desperate need. According to the UNHCR, those fleeing South Sudan number nearly 2 million; another half million have fled the Central African Republic; 3 million Iraqis have fled their homes; and another 2 million are displaced in Yemen. In each of these places children are hungry, ill, and dying.

If you're like me, you're sickened by what these children endure--yet you feel hopeless and unable to help. While none of us can fix the problem in its entirety, we can help make a difference for at least some of these children. This list from We Welcome Refugees, tells of the work some NGOs and ministries are doing to help. From that list, I mentioned the Preemptive Love Coalition in the book; they have worked in Aleppo, Mosul, Kirkuk and other places we hear of on the news. I've read of the child-friendly spaces that both World Vision and World Relief are providing. provides another list of agencies who are making a difference. We can also advocate with our senators and representatives, asking that they allow refugees to find a home in the U.S.

My heart breaks when I read of these children; I cannot stand by and do nothing. I pray you will join me in reaching out to or advocating for them in some way.


Jane SmithComment