MINNIEH, Lebanon (AP) – Ricky Martin, the world-renowned singer and UNICEF goodwill ambassador, said that the word "refugee" had lost its value but that the international community should "open its heart."
The 44-year-old Puerto Rican spoke during a visit to Lebanon with UNICEF to meet Syrian refugee children.
"At this point what we want is to make sure children get their rights. Some children unfortunately are not going to school," he said Thursday in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press in Minnieh, north Lebanon. News of the visit was released by UNICEF on Friday because of an embargo.
The singer met with Syrian children in Zahleh, in the Bekaa Valley on Wednesday, and in the Minnieh informal settlement, near the northern city of Tripoli, the following day.
In Minnieh, the children performed "Maria," the singer's dance-along hit tune, and played a game of soccer with the star. During his visit, Martin also met teenagers attending life-skills training, according to UNICEF.
The star, whose charity and advocacy work has focused on combating child labor and human trafficking, said he was moved by a Syrian refugee from Homs he met in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.
He says the 11-year-old refugee, named Batoul, is "working in agriculture, 12 hours a day. And she's getting paid with water."
"This is happening to our kids. This is happening to our future generation," he said.
According to UNICEF, there are 2.8 million children out of school in the region and child refugees are particularly at risk of exploitation and abuse. The U.N. agency says it is addressing child labor by providing free education and economic opportunities for parents and youth of working age.