Children at risk of becoming a ‘lost generation’

Syrian refugees carry belongings as they enter Turkey

Syrian refugees enter a Turkish border gate Sept. 4. The UNHCR said there had been a near tenfold increase over the past 12 months in the number of refugees crossing into bordering countries. (CNS photo/Umit Bektas, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The latest statistics out by the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees say that more than 2 million Syrians have fled their country with countless others internally displaced.

This UN graphic gives the tragedy some frightening details, showing how in less than six months, the number of refugees has doubled.

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An interactive graphic by the UNHCR showing the sharp increase in the number of Syrians fleeing their homes.

Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, said half of those refugees are children. The upheaval and lack of schooling means “there’s the risk that an entire generation of children will become a lost generation,” he told the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, head of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which promotes and coordinates Catholic charitable activity around the world, said the situation in Syria is “heartbreaking.”

With some 30 percent of the Syria population already uprooted from their homes, either as refugees or internally displaced, a foreign military intervention would cause “an escalation that would have terrible consequences,” he said.

One contemplative nun based in Syria told the Vatican paper that the people there are in a sort of suspended animation — dreading a possible military strike from abroad.

“The tension is palpable, as is the fear,” Sr. Marta Luisa Fagnani said.

Many nearby villages “have been completely destroyed, women and children have been kidnapped and taken away. Fourteen villages are gone.”

Nearly 7 million people are in need of aid, and both cardinals praised the work of the Catholic Church in providing desperately needed help on the ground. Some of those groups include Jesuit Refugee Service and member organizations of Caritas Internationalis.

Cardinal Sarah said because local Caritas members are already there where the crises are unfolding, it takes them relatively little time to turn contributions directly into the food, medicines, blankets, clothes, fuel and stoves as well as free medical care people need.

With the growing number of people, especially women, children and the elderly, living in refugee camps, the cardinal said the church offers projects to promote schooling, psychological and spiritual support, and work opportunities since “refugees can’t survive on just humanitarian aid.”

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Cardinal Sarah said the pope’s appeal for prayer and fasting is part of the wider call for people to respond concretely to others in need with some kind of sacrifice, no matter how small.

People can donate to Caritas online and JRS as well as their preferred charity.

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