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UN reports child refugees exceed 1 million

GENEVA — It is shaping up to be a lost generation: The number of child refugees fleeing Syria’s violence has now topped 1 million.

The grim milestone announced Friday by UN officials means that as many Syrian children have been uprooted from their homes or families as the number of children who live in Wales, or in Boston and Los Angeles combined, said Antonio Guterres, the head of the Office for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

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‘‘Can you imagine Wales without children? Can you imagine Boston and Los Angeles without children?’’ Guterres said to reporters in Geneva.

About half of the nearly 2 million registered refugees from Syria are children and 740,000 of those are under the age of 11, according to the UN refugee and children’s agencies.

Guterres said the horrors of war experienced by these children puts them in grave danger of becoming a ‘‘lost generation.’’ With emotion he recounted some of his personal visits with Syrian child refugees, including seeing one compulsively shoot a toy gun and others who drew pictures of dead children, planes with bombs, and destroyed homes.

‘‘This is totally unacceptable,’’ he said. ‘‘They will be paying for it the rest of their lives.’’

Yoka Brandt, deputy head of UNICEF, called the exodus from Syria’s civil war ‘‘truly a children’s crisis. And the unacceptable thing is that it is children who have nothing to do with this crisis that are paying the price.’’

But the children’s ordeals are not over once they escape Syria, Guterres said. Even after they cross a border to safety, they are often traumatized, depressed, and in need of a reason for hope.

The threats to refugee children are rising, the agencies say, including child labor, early marriage, and the potential for sexual exploitation and trafficking.

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