28 September 2016

SOS Children’s Villages concerned for Damascus village

Children look through the window of a damaged school in Damascus. Photographer: File photo / 2014

SOS Children’s Villages International announced today that Syrian government forces have occupied its village in Damascus, a day after children and employees were evacuated amid intensified fighting.

In a statement, Carsten Völz, Chief Operating Officer of SOS Children’s Villages International, called on all conflict parties to ensure the rights of children in the country.
 
“SOS Children’s Villages International expresses its concern about the occupation of our village in Damascus by military personnel and an earlier mortar attack on the premises”, Mr Völz said.
 
“Our villages are recognised globally as safe havens for children and we dedicate ourselves to providing caring, loving and secure family environments. As a non-governmental organisation, SOS Children’s Villages is committed to the principles of neutrality and impartiality and to defending the rights of children to grow up in a safe and caring environment. SOS Children’s Villages has lost control over the village and is not a party to any actions taking place from or within the village premises.
 
Mr Völz added, “We have worked for more than 30 years to provide care and protection for vulnerable children in Syria and will continue to do so. SOS Children’s Villages calls on all parties of the Syrian conflict to respect all the rights of children.”
 
More than 150 children and young people, along with nearly 50 employees, were evacuated to another location on 27 September amid intensified bombardment around the Syrian capital. All were reported safe and uninjured.
 
Organisation officials later said that at least two mortar shells fell on the village property. Little damage was reported.
 
Following the evacuation, Alia Al-Dalli, International Director of Middle East and North Africa Region, said in a statement “We are doing all that we can to ensure the safety of the children and our colleagues. We urge all parties of the conflict to end this violence.”

There has been an upsurge in fighting near the village, according to one SOS Children’s Villages mother who was among those evacuated. “It has been frightening”, she said. “I have done all I can to keep the children distracted from the sounds of bombs. We play games and sing songs, the children enjoy drawing and we put their pictures up on the walls of our house.
 
“When the decision was made that we should evacuate the village, it was a huge relief”, the mother added. “We kept the children calm and told them that we are going to a new home. When we heard that two mortars hit the village only hours after our evacuation, we knew it was the right decision. We hope for peace so that our children can settle and can grow up without worrying about bombs or war.”