Syrian children now too frightened to sleep indoors

22 February 2023

A father from Aleppo has spoken of how his children are too scared to sleep indoors after the devastating earthquakes which hit Syria and Türkiye.

In a poignant video, the father, Mohamed Lucy said: “This is something beyond imagination. The children are frightened. When the children see the house roof, they become frightened and want to leave. And me! I’m terrified.”

Lucy said he and his children are still in shock more than 14 days after they lost their home and all their belongings in the two catastrophic earthquakes that struck Syria and Türkiye on Monday 6 February, and whose death toll has now surpassed 47,000.

Families and children are grappling with the impact of a new 6.4 earthquake that has hit the Syria-Turkey border Monday, which will slow down recovery efforts and increase anxiety and heartbreak for families who had barely recovered from the initial quakes.

In the aftermath of a disaster of this scale, looking after the social and emotional well-being of children must be a top priority, says child rights and humanitarian NGO Plan International. Efforts must now be focused on ensuring children are provided child friendly spaces for psychosocial support to enable them cope with the devastating impacts of the earthquakes.

“We have lost everything – everything. I haven’t slept. I have trouble falling asleep each time it gets dark. We are now reluctant to be inside any house.”

“If you ask me now to live in a palace, I would definitely say no, I can’t,” added Lucy, who said he hasn’t slept in the 10 days since the earthquake.

“Tens of thousands of children have suffered unthinkable losses and stress,” said Plan International’s Global Humanitarian Director, Dr Unni Krishnan.

Children are cold, hungry, exhausted and scared

The earthquakes and aftershocks hit hard on large number of people who have been living through the impact of a deadly civil war. Now they are suffering the trauma of another disaster and freezing weather conditions, and or losing or separated from their parents.

“They are cold, hungry, exhausted and terrified. They now need to be kept safe at all costs, and given access to psychological first aid and mental health care.”

Activities that will help to re-establish daily routine and generate hope are critical to first-aid efforts, said Krishnan, calling hope ‘an engine that drives human dignity’.

“And hope and dignity together makes relief more meaningful for survivors,” he said.

“Children do not only need food, warm clothes, medical assistance, clean water and a safe place to stay, they also need emotional care,” he said. “It is critical to offer children an opportunity to play, re-connect with friends and access information. Safe spaces that offer recreational, social and learning activities can help bring back these routines. Providing support to parents to relieve stress and support them in daily life will also have a positive impact on the well-being of children.”

“In crisis settings, mind matters, and hope matters. The needs related to mental health are often invisible, and if you don’t look, you will never find.”

Working with partner to meet children’s needs

Plan International is working with its partner MECC in northern Syria to meet the immediate needs of children and families, who urgently need food, water, blankets and sleeping bags. We are also working alongside our partners to assess the needs of children, especially children who have lost their parents in the disaster, and those separated from their families.

With schools closed, providing shelter to those who have lost their homes, children are left without their usual support networks. Our experience shows that children, especially girls, women and the poorest families, are most at risk of exploitation in a disaster like an earthquake.

“Relief and recovery efforts become more meaningful when such efforts listen to the concerns and aspirations of survivors. As a humanitarian organisation, we are absolutely committed to bringing the voices of children and girls to our response efforts in Syria,” said Krishnan.

Krishnan said: “A major earthquake and repeated aftershocks shake people, impact their minds and amplify stress. Psychological needs are often invisible. Left unattended, they often leave lasting scars on young minds. It is critical to address the mental health needs of young survivors from day one onwards.

“Urgent efforts are needed to ensure that protection and psychosocial services offering hope and a sense of normality are in place for all children in the catastrophic aftermath of the earthquakes.”