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'This virus makes it a double burden' for children in Libya, Yemen and Syria

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By Louise Miner  & Judith Prescott
Syria Children of War
Syria Children of War   -   Copyright  AP

The UN children's agency has called for an extra €85 million to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the Middle East and North Africa.

UNICEF says conflicts and wars have led to the highest number of children in need of assistance in the world.

It says nearly 25 million children are suffering including many who are refugees and internally displaced.

UNICEF estimates the devastating effects of lockdowns on businesses will drag around eight million more people into poverty.

Euronews spoke to Juliette Touma, the Regional Chief of Communication for UNICEF, in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Our greatest concerns are for children in places like Syria, like Yemen, like Libya, where conflict meant that these children's lives were (already) unbearable and now this virus comes and makes it a double burden. So this is our biggest concern and this is where we actually intensified our humanitarian assistance,“ Touma said. 

_Below is a selected transcript and you can watch the interview in the player above. _

Is getting humanitarian assistance to these areas more challenging since the COVID-19 pandemic?

“Here in the Middle East, borders have been closed and air spaces as well, but despite all of that, we’ve managed to get in supplies especially for the front line workers, (such as) Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) to millions of doctors and nurses around the region."

"We're mainly helped by those from local markets so that’s something that we’ve worked on to support local economies which are actually going down massively in the region."

"Predictions are that poverty is going to increase in 2020 by at least 8 million additional people due to the loss of jobs.”

Are you seeing signs of the global ceasefire that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for?

“Yes, we have seen a very good lull in violence in places like northwest Syria where if you recall at the beginning of the year it was a total blood bath and so that is very welcome in the sense that we’re seeing obviously a decrease in the number of children killed."

"Unfortunately, we’re not seeing the same happening in places like Yemen where it has been five years of brutal, brutal war where children pay the heaviest price."

"And we’re in fact seeing an escalation in places like Libya. And so it is time that the guns fall silent for the sake of children."

"This virus doesn’t know any borders, doesn’t know race, doesn’t know which political side you’re sitting on and so it is high time that violence comes to an end and I do hope that this ceasefire that we called for translates into a total end to these brutal wars on children in this region.”