Amid the incoherence and instability across the Arab world, one thing has remained constant – the human cost of war.
Years of conflict in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya have plagued the lives of millions of Arab citizens and jeopardized the future of entire generations.
Distraught and traumatized generations of Arab youths and children have been bearing the brunt and psychological toll of unwarranted, brutal wars and devastating fallouts in their countries.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) nearly 70 million people, over half of whom are children are uprooted from their normal lives due to sectarian violence and raging civil wars in their countries.
Desperately fleeing bloodshed violence and relentless armed conflicts, thousands of families have been displaced and driven from their hometowns seeking refuge in nearby countries or abroad. Deprived of their basic rights, millions of impoverished and malnourished Arab refugee youths and children are growing up in fractured families, denied access to education and healthcare, and forced to work to survive.
Weaponizing of children
The results of raging conflicts and escalating violence in the Middle East have been catastrophic with detrimental effects on children and youths who remain highly vulnerable to grave violations, abuse and exploitation.
Scarred by extreme levels of violence and horrific atrocities, children have been the most egregious victims of raging conflicts, living in constant fear with haunting memories for the rest of their lives.
From widespread killing, maiming, abduction, rape, sexual violence and armed recruitment, children living in war-torn zones continue to come under direct attack at alarming scales. Above all, refugee and displaced children and youths face heightened risks of trafficking due to their economic and social vulnerability and lack of security and protection.
Accordingly, they fall as victims to exploitation and recruitment by terrorist and criminal groups. Several reports by non-government organisations (NGO’s) indicate that tens of thousands of displaced girls and boys have suffered the horrors of kidnapping, recruitment into armed groups, sexual exploitation, forced labour and early marriages.
Caught up in tragic war consequences and bearing psychological burdens from witnessing war horrors, thousands of parentless, homeless and stateless children must confront and work through the loss of family members, their homeland, and their own identity.
After experiencing such immense trauma and stress, these young generations of terror, fear and suffering are caught up between a life of despair and revenge and a future of hope. There’s no doubt that repairing the psychological damage and rebuilding the lives of millions of vulnerable children is challenging but nevertheless possible to avoid creating hopeless and disempowered lost generations.
Another disturbing symptom of the crisis in the Middle East is the lack of registration and documentation of babies born in exile to refugee parents.
In war-torn countries, births to Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Yemeni nationals often go unregistered due to missing identity documents, security threats, or legal or logistical barriers. Several host countries also fail to register new-born children in refugee camps.
This can result in serious consequences, including exposure to violence and exploitation, risk of statelessness, difficulty accessing healthcare and education, and quandary in crossing borders, voluntary return, and proving citizenship on return.
Road to refuge
Apart from being traumatised by the conflicts and violence they are fleeing, generations of Arab youths and children – turned refugees are enduring sorrowful lives suffering from fear, exclusion, and insecurity.
As they venture somewhere in pursuit of a better life, vulnerable children and youths embark on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean en-route to Europe, only to find new dangers and challenges awaiting.
According to a 2016 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) entitled “Danger Every Step of the Way”, unaccompanied children and minors account for a large percentage of migrants and refugees on the move, often facing terrible threats such as rape, trafficking, sexual exploitation, beatings, forced labour and even murder. Some children also go missing and end up becoming targets of criminal organisations and traffickers. Moreover, the report highlights xenophobia, stigmatization, and discrimination acts against refugee and migrant children.
Witnessing their past and future fade amidst the debris and destruction of long-drawn-out conflicts lies the tragedy and suffering of young Arabs, who are at a risk of becoming lost generations.
Despite their courage and aspirations, these war generations have been stripped of the chance to grow, develop and fulfil their potential. Yet, this current generational effect of displacement will last for decades, as Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen are faced with lost generations.