UNICEF UK Supporter Michael Sheen is warning of an approaching “cold weather catastrophe” for Syrian children as winter sets in – after travelling to meet refugees in Lebanon.
Many children fled Syria with just the clothes on their back – and are now facing rising risks of malnutrition and pneumonia in Lebanon as temperatures begin to drop and heavy rains risk flooding their makeshift shelters.
The film and television star made the journey with UNICEF, the world’s leading children’s organisation, and one of the few agencies operating both in Syria and all the neighbouring countries.
“Syrian children have lost everything – loved ones, their homes, their education – and now winter is a new and potentially deadly threat,” explains Michael Sheen, who starred in the Queen and Frost/ Nixon and has supported UNICEF’s work for children for the past three years.
“In Syria and across the region close to six million children are in urgent need of aid in what is now the largest humanitarian operation in history.”
“Temperatures are starting to fall and children desperately need warm clothes and blankets if we are to prevent a cold weather catastrophe in the coming months,” explains Michael, who captained the “Rest of the World” team in ITV1’s Soccer Aid match in 2012, raising money for UNICEF’s work for children.
The tiny nation of Lebanon is hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees – more than 800,000 have fled to the country, half of whom are children. More than one million Syrians are thought to be inside Lebanon’s borders in total.
This weekend, around ten thousand more Syrian refugees have poured into Lebanon, to escape heavy fighting in central Syria.
Lebanon’s resources are being stretched to breaking point under the strain of coping with the influx.
“Refugee children are living in over-crowded temporary settlements with a lack of clean water and basic sanitation – which greatly increases their risk of illness as winter closes in,” explains Anita Tiessen, UNICEF UK Deputy Executive Director.
“We expect cases of pneumonia to increase– and as food prices increase in the cold season, and winter downpours cause flooding in already unsanitary conditions, malnutrition is also a terrible danger, especially for young children.”
Michael met families who are struggling to clothe and feed their children as the cold weather bites.
“I spoke with the Sabat family who fled horrific violence in Syria and are now facing unimaginable challenges in the country where they sought safety for their children,” says Michael.
“Their baby is malnourished and in their shack, they have no heating, and nothing to protect them from raging gales and the real risk of flooding.”
UNICEF is working round the clock to do everything possible to prevent a whole generation of Syrian children being lost to the conflict.
Teams are providing children with vital supplies such as blankets, warm clothes and medicine - as well as getting children access to education and psychological support.
Michael witnessed the first delivery of UNICEF winter supplies to Syrian children in Faida in the Bekaa valley, who are living in improvised shacks, without access to heating and basic services.
“Seeing the faces of children who had nothing receive a full supply of winter clothes – from hats to coats to thermal underwear - was emotional and showed what can be done to change lives,” explains Michael.
“However, the numbers are huge, and growing every day, and without more support UNICEF cannot reach every child in desperate need.”
More than one million Syrian children have now fled the country and are struggling to cope as refugees in neighbouring countries.
“As we begin to feel winter weather bite in the UK, I urge everyone who thinks there is nothing they can do about Syria to think again,” says Michael.
“We can take action now to donate to children facing extreme conditions and help stop millions of innocent Syrian children losing their childhoods.”
All money raised for UNICEF’s work for the children of Syria will be matched pound for pound by the UK Government until the end of January.
You can help at home by texting ‘SYRIA’ to 70007 to donate £5 to the children of Syria or phone or 0800 044 5885 donate online, visit www.unicef.org.uk
Notes for editors:
Images of Michael in Lebanon are available in high res. Contact Georgina Thompson, UNICEF UK Media Manager, on 020 7375 6120 or UNICEF UK Press Office on 0207 375 6030
UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation for children, working in over 190 countries to help every child realise their full potential. We work with partners to transform the lives of children everywhere. UNICEF provides health care, water, nutrition, education and protection for children. The most vulnerable and disadvantaged children are our priority. As champion of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, we work to protect and promote the rights of every child. UNICEF UK raises funds for UNICEF’s emergency and development work and advocates for lasting change for children everywhere. We are a UK registered charity, supported entirely by voluntary donations. We do not receive any money from the UN. For more information, please visit unicef.org.uk