Most Brits would think of Iraq as one of the most dangerous places on Earth. But it’s here, in the searing summer heat, that seven-year-old Nisreen from Syria has been forced to seek refuge.
Like millions of other Syrian children, Nisreen has lost everything she ever knew. With bombings in her region and a breakdown of security, a group of men almost succeeded in kidnapping her from her home in Syria.
Her mother, Dala, took immediate action. She picked up Nisreen and her two-year-old brother and fled, leaving behind her friends, family and school.
Dala told me Nisreen’s story from their basic shelter near Dohuk in northern Iraq. It’s converted from an animal barn and they share it with two other families.
I’ve travelled to the region with UNICEF UK to report on the Syria refugee crisis for Sky News.
I had heard about horrific conditions facing children in Syria and in neighbouring countries like Jordan and Lebanon, but the hardship faced by Syrian refugees in Iraq is an untold story.
Every Syrian child has been touched by this conflict and in every refugee family there is a story of tragedy – of children who have lost their childhood.
The number of refugees pouring into Iraq from Syria has tripled over the past six months, and the number is expected to more than double again by the end of the year – to 350,000.
For those who managed to escape Syria, life as a refugee remains incredibly difficult. Nisreen is still out of school and has become ill from the effects of the extreme heat and dust.
I also met children like 11-year-old Ahee who lives in a tent in the Domiz refugee camp not far from Nisreen’s shelter.
With summer temperatures peaking at 45 degrees and a camp once designed for 10,000 now crammed with 45,000, she is facing the real risk of dehydration and the outbreak of disease.
Children are struggling to get access to clean water and vital schooling. Ahee and her family don’t wash regularly as they can’t afford to waste a drop.
UNICEF is working night and day to get vital aid to Syrian children and their families – like vaccinations and medical supplies.
In the last year they’ve supplied 10 million people in Syria and the region with clean drinking water, and they are doing everything they can to get as many children into school as possible.
However, the numbers of refugees are huge and resources are stretched to the limit.
UNICEF has around only a third of the money it needs this year to get aid to children like Nisreen and Ahee who need it and desperately requires more funds to carry out its vital work.
If we don’t act now, Syria’s children are at risk of becoming a lost generation.
:: Nisreen is not the seven-year-old girl’s real name, but has been used to protect her identity.
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