UNICEF Ambassador Ewan McGregor travelled to northern Iraq last week to see how the conflicts sweeping across Iraq and Syria are devastating children’s lives. Tens of thousands of children have been killed, injured, separated from their parents, forced to work, tortured and recruited into fighting.
During his visit McGregor travelled to Debaga camp where he met with families that have escaped brutal violence currently taking place in areas surrounding Mosul in the north of the country. He also spent time with Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqi families in camps and communities around Erbil.
The situation for children in Iraq is becoming increasingly desperate. Around 3.6 million children – one in five – are at serious risk of death, injury, sexual violence, abduction and recruitment into armed groups. Many are being ripped from their families and forced to flee on their own, often making dangerous journeys and falling into the hands of traffickers.
“Children uprooted by conflict can find themselves alone, without family and in grave danger. No child should be alone. Many of the children I’ve met in Iraq have been forced to flee their homes, risking their lives on dangerous journeys and have been exposed to unimaginable horrors,” said UNICEF Ambassador Ewan McGregor.
“The world is facing an unprecedented refugee crisis and we must do more to protect the extraordinary number of children who have been torn from their homes by violent conflict.”
“One girl I met called Mirna told me how her family slept in a disused, half-constructed shopping mall for over a year. The community donated food, clothes and supplies to her family and really came together to welcome displaced people. This act of humanity should be replicated everywhere, especially on our own doorsteps. It’s up to us to tell our friends, our neighbours and our governments that refugees are welcome.”
This September world leaders will meet to discuss the global refugee crisis at two crucial summits in New York. UNICEF is urging leaders to be strong, compassionate and bold in their commitments to protect children on the move.
McGregor witnessed how UNICEF is reaching families fleeing the Mosul area with lifesaving food and water, child protection services and healthcare. Many of the people he met, who had been previously trapped, had not had access to healthcare, education or basic services for over two years.
UNICEF is working to protect children across Iraq and Syria, delivering life-saving food, clean water and vaccines, as well as providing education and psychological support. However humanitarian aid cannot keep pace with the tremendous needs of children.