UN Sounds Alarm on Iraq Violence's Grave Threat to Children

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Common Dreams

UN Sounds Alarm on Iraq Violence's Grave Threat to Children

Half a million Iraqi children have been forced to flee their homes.

An Iraqi child leans against a wall in Muqdadiyah, Iraq. (Photo: david real 1/cc/flickr)

United Nations officials are sounding alarm at the toll the escalating crisis in Iraq has taken upon the nation's children.

The current wave of conflict has forced roughly one million Iraqis from their homes, and half a million of those fleeing are children.

Tina Yu, Iraq Country Director with the international charity Save the Children, called it "one of the biggest displacements in recent history."

"I am especially concerned by the increasing violence and its impact on children," Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, warned in a statement issued Thursday.

Humanitarian agencies have scaled up their efforts to help the refugees, stated Jacqueline Badcock, United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, but she also warned Friday, "Many are staying in the open and urgently need water, food, shelter and latrines."

"The humanitarian needs of Iraq’s wider newly displaced population continue to mount," added UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards.

In addition to the obstacles to meet the displaced children's basic needs including sanitation, they may face the threat of polio. The disease reappeared just months ago in Iraq following a 14-year absence.

Unicef this week announced it was beginning a vaccination campaign in the Kurdistan region where many have sought refuge. The agency warns that displaced, un-immunized children are "extremely vulnerable to a large polio outbreak."

The UN also warned that armed militia groups "on all sides" may be recruiting children.

"We have received worrisome information that children are taking part in hostilities," Zerrougui stated.

While three children were killed every other day in attacks in 2013, "this recent wave of hostilities could inflict an even higher toll with children killed or injured, displaced, or separated from their families," Zerrougui's office warned.

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