SOUTHERN SHUNEH, Jordan — The United States has a responsibility to help Jordan as it struggles to support hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and must actively seek to end Syria’s long civil war, American human rights advocate Kerry Kennedy told a conference on forced migration.
“Stop the violence that creates the refugee crisis,” Kennedy said March 24 to an audience that included Nobel laureates, global leaders and children concerned about child trafficking, trauma and abuse stemming from the violence. “We have not done what we should to stop that violence and we can do that more all over the world.”
The March 24-27 summit convened by Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan and Kailash Satyarthi of India, co-winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, in this Dead Sea community called for an action plan to protect children on the move, especially as forced migrations worldwide are expected to increase over time. The activists want to ensure that children, especially in the most vulnerable areas of the world, are free, safe, educated and healthy.
Kennedy, the daughter of American political icon Robert F. Kennedy, pointed to the staggering statistics: 50 million children are on the move around the world, 75 million need help to continue their education, 152 million are involved in child labor and 263 million are not in school.
Satyarthi went further.
“The most damning indictment of today’s so-called techno-civilized world can be summed up in three stark and savage words: Slavery still exists,” he said.
“What is even more shameful is that children are the worst victims of this. A large number of children are not safe. They are seeking refuge. They are forced from their homes and their countries. Their education is jeopardized. Their health is in danger. We cannot wait,” Satyarthi said.
Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan shared the Nobel Peace Prize for their work to end the suppression of children and young people and to promote the right of education for all children.
Prince Ali called on governments, private donors and others to provide funds to help traumatized children affected by violence throughout Iraq and Syria.
“It’s a cost and a long-term action. But governments, donors, whoever in the world needs to realize whether it’s education or dealing with trauma, no matter how expensive it is, none of it is as expensive as weapons are,” he said.
Jordan hosts the second largest refugee population per capita in the world. It has seen its resources of water, electricity, education and health services taxed under the weight of hosting more than 1.2 million Syrian refugees and thousands of Iraqis, Yemeni and Libyans fleeing conflicts.
“One of the basic tenets of Catholicism is caring for those who are suffering,” Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and author of “Being Catholic Now,” told Catholic News Service.
“It’s especially meaningful to me to be here during Holy Week in this Holy Land of Jordan where so many stories from the Bible took place,” Kennedy said.
“We are standing 10 minutes away from where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and we are talking about children in slavery, children forced by war to leave their countries to walk for thousands of miles alone often with or without their parents and children who are exploited through trafficking and other means,” she said, underscoring the gravity of the problem.
“This to me is a reflection of Jesus on the cross of the suffering that humans create out of the anger or fear or jealousy and the capacity for universal love to respond to that and to try and create change … and we are going to hold our governments responsible,” Kennedy said.
She pledged to present the issue to the Group of 20 nations, which represent the world’s largest economies and the European Union.
Prince Ali said summit recommendations also were to be presented to “international organizations, including United Nations agencies, and world leaders for adoption and implementation in their respective countries.”
“Children cannot wait,” Satyarthi added. “This is a political and moral urgency. If we collectively protect one generation, then other generations will be able to protect themselves.”