Monday 5 December 2016

GAA star Joe kicks off hope for Syrian refugee kids with Unicef Ireland

Stephen Rae

Published 02/12/2016 | 02:30

Unicef Ireland ambassador Joe Canning at a tent school for refugee children outside Gaziantep, Turkey. Photo: Mark Condren
Unicef Ireland ambassador Joe Canning at a tent school for refugee children outside Gaziantep, Turkey. Photo: Mark Condren

Galway hurling legend Joe Canning has just returned from the Turkish border with Syria where he witnessed first-hand the plight of frightened children who have fled Aleppo.

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Unicef ambassador Joe met many children who have been scarred by the war and are receiving psychological help to cope. Around 25 people a day are being killed in Aleppo where families dodge snipers, helicopters dropping barrel bombs, and Russian fighter bombers to escape the city.

Unicef Ireland ambassador Joe Canning plays football with Syrian children in Gaziantep, Turkey. Photo: Mark Condren
Unicef Ireland ambassador Joe Canning plays football with Syrian children in Gaziantep, Turkey. Photo: Mark Condren

Once the families finally cross the border into Turkey, Unicef Ireland is trying to bring some stability to them by providing schools and counselling.

"Psychologically, they are really scarred from where they came from but they can see a future, they can see a light at the end of the tunnel," said Joe.

"I think it was very poignant when one mother said she wants her children to have the dreams she didn't have - she wants them to go to university and complete their education. I think if we can help in some way towards that I think that's all the better."

The fighting in Aleppo has been the bloodiest and most horrific of the long civil war between on one side the Assad-led army and the other Isil and a coalition of rebels.

Assad this week tightened the noose around Aleppo with decisive breakthroughs helped by constant bombardments led by Russian airstrikes.

Around three million Syrians have fled to Turkey - many end up in refugee camps run by Turkish authorities, living in tents and containers. The remainder live in poverty in cities on the border.

With little income to survive on, in many cases their children are forced to work in textile factories once they reach the age of 11. It's estimated there are 850,000 child labourers in Turkey - and as the Syrians arrive, what they earn plummets.

Joe described how Unicef is funding teachers to give the children the education to escape the poverty trap.

Despite the horrors at home, many of the refugees still harbour the hope of returning.

"When you really think about it, your home is your home," said Joe Canning. "But when there is a war at home, I don't know if I'd want to go home myself. All the families we met felt strongly about that, they wanted to go back to Aleppo when, hopefully, the war ends."

Read more on our exclusive dispatch from the Syrian border tomorrow on independent.ie

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