Pau Gasol, National Basketball Association (NBA) champion and Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), has wrapped up a visit to Iraq by urging additional support for the hundreds of thousands of Syrian children forced out of their homeland by conflict.
“I met children who have fled from a tragic situation in Syria and now depend on urgent humanitarian aid to save their lives and give them an opportunity to build a new life,” said Mr. Gasol, a Silver Medallist at the 2012 Olympics, two-time NBA champion and UNICEF Spain Committee Ambassador since 2003.
Among the children with whom Mr. Gasol met was 10-year-old Sulinam who told the Goodwill Ambassador that his family’s shop had been destroyed in Syria, “I want the war to end there so that I can return home and my brothers and sisters and I can go back to school.”
Mr. Gasol said he was “shocked” to see what some of the children have seen, “No child should experience such violence and destruction and be deprived of the basic services that they need to grow and develop to fulfil their potential.”
Since fighting began in March 2011 between the Syrian Government and opposition groups seeking to oust President Bashar Al-Assad as many as 100,000 people have been killed, some 4 million have been internally displaced and almost 2 million have fled to neighbouring countries – of which around 50 per cent are children, including over 160,000 in Iraq.
UNICEF said it has provided around 10 million people with access to safe water, more than 2.4 million children with vaccinations against measles and 268,000 with access to education, among other responses.
During his visit, Mr. Gasol saw the UN and its partners support provision of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities, primary education, health care and child protection services.
“Providing these services is a huge job,” said Mr. Gasol. “While we can see some good results, the needs are enormous. So much more help is needed.”
The UN agency has appealed for more than $360 million to assist Syrian children in Iraq, as well as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt, through the end of the year. As of 16 July, the latest figures show a $191 million funding gap.
Earlier this month, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, who also visited Iraq, among other countries in the region, stressed that children will continue to suffer the consequences of the ongoing conflict in Syria unless an urgent political solution is found.