CELEBRITIES including Liam Neeson and Stephen Rea have appealed to the Irish public to donate much-needed funds to save the lives of the children of war-torn Syria.
The actors joined fellow UNICEF Ambassadors, including Munster and Ireland rugby star Donncha O'Callaghan, best-selling author Cathy Kelly and Galway hurler Joe Canning, in issuing the charity's winter fundraising appeal.
"Over one million children have been forced to flee their homes in the dark of night and make a difficult and dangerous journey across the border to seek safety in neighbouring countries – it's a staggering number, the equivalent to every boy and girl in Ireland leaving these shores," the letter added.
"Life for a child under siege in Syria, or in a refugee camp like Za'atari where 10 babies are born every day, is not the kind of life any of us would wish for our children. If we do not protect them now, we will lose a generation of doctors, engineers and political leaders who will one day rebuild Syria."
Some 6.8 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance, with ongoing conflict driving people from their homes. More than two million people have fled to neighbouring countries.
UNICEF Ireland is today launching its Winter Appeal for the children of Syria.
Rugby player O'Callaghan, who visited Syrian refugees in Lebanon in June, told the Irish Independent he fears for the lives of the young children he met as winter approaches.
"Near the Syrian border, I met children living in makeshift tents who were severely malnourished and drinking dirty water.
"As a father of young children it broke my heart to see the conditions they were forced to live in. I worry about what winter will bring," he said.
Last winter, snow and heavy rain led to flooding in refugee camps where UNICEF treated children for hypothermia.
The organisation is appealing to the Irish public to become regular donors to fund a massive distribution of winter supplies for children including blankets, shoes and socks, jackets and baby bodysuits.
Donations can be made at www.unicef.ie, by phoning (01) 878 3000 or by post to UNICEF Ireland, 33 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1.
Meanwhile, the Government has pledged an additional €3m in funding to provide life-saving food, shelter, basic health care and water for those affected by the conflict in Syria.
Ireland has already provided nearly €11m in humanitarian aid to the war-torn country.
Minister for Trade and Development, Joe Costello, said the emergency assistance demonstrates Ireland's commitment to play a "leading role" in the global response to the crisis.
"This funding will benefit those directly affected by the conflict and the communities in other neighbouring states which have shown such extraordinary generosity and solidarity to those fleeing Syria."