For the approximately one million Iraqis now taking refuge in Syria, life is often a daily battle between hope and despair. These two Iraqi shoeshine boys in Damascus are part of a lost generation of Iraqi youth, forced from their homes by violence, denied access to education and left to support themselves any way they can.
Many Iraqi teenagers in Syria and Jordan have been unable to attend school since the third or fourth grade. Nearly a decade behind their peers in school and unable to work legally, many young Iraqi refugees struggle to survive as street vendors or touts. When asked where he saw himself in five years, one teenaged Iraqi responded, “Nowhere.”
Without hope for the future, young Iraqi refugees can become susceptible to poverty, disease, despair and recruitment by violent extremists. There is much Americans can do, however. Extending a helping hand to Iraq’s lost generation will shape their view of the United States, save innocent lives, and help ensure that the future of the region is not defined by despair.