Young Syrian refugees play at the recently opened Vrazhdebna shelter in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Friday, November 22.
Before his family urged him to flee the fighting in Syria, 17-year old Firas saw a bullet strike his sister in the head while they were in a car together. Maher, 16, has not seen his father for nearly two years, ever since he was detained and tortured alongside him before being released.
These young boys, separated from loved ones, are among the many thousands of children who've escaped the shelling in their native Syria. But they now face the daily hardships of refugee life in neighboring Lebanon and Jordan.
Starting a new life away from the old comforts of home, many are growing up in fractured families and are often the household's main breadwinners, according to a report released Friday by the United Nations' refugee agency, UNHCR.
Scarred by the horrors of war, they suffer from psychological distress, live alone or separated from their parents, receive no education or are thrown into illegal child labor, the agency said.
"Our lives are destroyed," the report quoted 14-year-old Nadia, a newly arrived refugee in Jordan.
"We are not being educated, and without education there is nothing. We're heading towards destruction."
Syria's ongoing conflict has torn countless families apart. Entire communities have been uprooted, scattering large populations within Syria and driving more than 2.2 million people into surrounding countries.
Children have been particularly affected.
In its first in-depth survey of Syrian refugee children since the conflict began in March 2011, UNHCR spoke to those now living in Lebanon and Jordan. But there are many others who fled to other countries such as Turkey and Iraq.
The report found that more than 70,000 Syrian refugee families live without fathers and over 3,700 refugee children are either unaccompanied by or separated from both parents.
In many cases, not only are their fathers absent, but many children have no idea where they are.
"If we do not act quickly, a generation of innocents will become lasting casualties of an appalling war," U.N. high commissioner for refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
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