Syria crossed a new milestone today as the civil war churns on with no end in sight: a million child refugees.
In a joint statement, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and UNICEF announced that they registered the 1 millionth Syrian child today.
Antonio Guterres, the head of the UNHCR, said the population of Syrian refugee children now equals the entire population of children living in Boston and Los Angeles combined, or enough kids to fill about 16,000 U.S. school buses.
“Can you imagine Boston and Los Angeles without children?” Guterres asked reporters in Geneva today.
The latest figures show that 740,000 child refugees are younger than 11, barely out of the fifth-grade.
“This one millionth child refugee is not just another number,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said. “This is a real child ripped from home, maybe even from a family, facing horrors we can only begin to comprehend.”
In today’s announcement, the UN said that children make up half of all Syrian refugees. About 3,500 children in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq crossed the border without their families.
The majority of registered refugees reside in Lebanon but are scattered throughout the region in Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq. The UN reported last week that about 40,000 Syrian refugees crossed the border into Iraqi Kurdistan. The UN said it’s unclear why the sudden influx into Iraq.
The official tally of registered refugees stands at 1,947,213, according to the UNHCR, but U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today the real number of Syrian refugees is “well over 2 million” if unregistered refugees are counted.
“It is heartbreaking to see all these young people, children and women and refugees, who do not have any means, any hope for their country,” Ban said in a speech in Seoul, South Korea. “They do not know when they will be able to return to their country.”
In Syria, the UN estimates at least 2 million children have been internally displaced. As the war stretches into its third year, 100,000 people have been killed, according to the UN, including 7,000 children.
“What is at stake is nothing less than the survival and well being of a generation of innocents,” UNHCR’s Guterres said. “The youth of Syria are losing their homes, their family members and their futures.”