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The New Arab

Children working in 'extremely toxic' Syrian oil distilleries

Nearly all of the major refineries have been destroyed in coalition airstrikes [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 September, 2016

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A new report details how children are increasingly being exposed to hazardous by-products of oil industry in make-shift, amateur oil refineries in Syria.
A new report has warned of an “alarmingly high” number of children being exposed to extremely toxic chemicals in make-shift oil refineries in Syria.

New satellite analysis published on Wednesday found 5,791 unregulated oil refineries operating in the oil fields north of Deir Az-Zour in northeast Syria and experts are warning of the “huge health risks” faced by child workers.

Wim Zwijnenburg, policy advisor at Dutch NGO, PAX, said: “Some of the unintended consequences of coalition airstrikes on refineries were that unofficial refineries popped up instead – these refineries cause major environmental and health impacts on the ground.

“We saw a huge growth in the number of make-shift refineries in Syria and Iraq after 2013, because all the major refineries were destroyed in coalition airstrikes. We also found that more and more children are working in these refineries because it’s the only way to bring in an income.”

The report, Scorched Earth and Charred Lives, details how workers, particularly young people, in the unregulated oil industry are being exposed to hazardous by-products of oil refinery, ultimately leading to health problems including respiratory disorders, organ failure, anaemia, and cancer.

“You have to know how to handle these chemicals,” said Zwijnenburg, "but all the experts have left, so people are working without training out of a need to make money.

“Most of the men left to fight for various armed groups, leaving the children behind to work in the refineries.

“More and more children are working in these refineries because it’s the only way to bring in an income – it’s not like there are any schools for them to go to.”

According to a 2015 report by Save the Children and UNICEF, approximately 75 percent of families surveyed in Syria were using children to supplement their household income.

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