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Finland focusing on the plight of Syrian women and girls

A two-day international Syria conference opened in Helsinki on Monday aimed at drawing attention to the need for more aid funding for Syria and its neighbouring countries. Finnish officials are underlining the position of women and girls in the Syrian conflict, as well as the situation of such vulnerable groups as people with disabilities.

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Hundreds of children were evacuated from eastern Aleppo who had lost one or both of their parents. Image: Ammar Safarjalani / AOP

Violence against women and girls is increasingly commonplace in conflicts such as the one in Syria, says Finnish Foreign Ministry Ambassador Leena-Kaisa Mikkola. She told Yle Monday morning that Finland has a clear goal in the UN Syria conference being hosted in Helsinki this week.

"Over the years, the position of women and girls in the Syrian conflict has only become worse. Sexual violence and forced marriages have become increasingly common, and for this reason it is important to keep the position of women and girls in the foreground," says Ambassador Mikkola.

Child marriage is a common feature of conflicts and chaotic conditions.

"When social structures fall apart, the opportunities for survival weaken. At such times, people see child marriages as a way to get help to survive financially," explains Claus Lindroos, who is the Director of Humanitarian Assistance at Finland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Not necessarily the right response

The Helsinki conference will present the UN’s humanitarian priorities for Syria in 2017 and launch the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) for 2017–2018.  The UN is seeking to draw attention to the need for aid funding for Syria and its neighbouring countries.

"The response of the international community to those in need of assistance is not necessarily what it should be," Ambassador Leena-Kaisa Mikkola points out. "The plans that the international community has will be discussed and the groundwork laid for a donors' conference which is likely to be held in Brussels in April."

There are around one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, one-fifth of the country's population.

"Syrian refugees are a huge challenge for neighbouring countries. I think that Jordan and Lebanon are dealing surprisingly well with refugees," Claus Lindroos told Yle. "The issues related to becoming a refugee are long-term. In some cases, we can even speak of a lost generation."

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