Syrian Refugee Crisis: facts and how to help

Oct 05, 2018
15-minute read
For seven years, conflict has devastated Syria. Now the Syrian refugee crisis is recognized internationally, as the largest refugee crisis of our time. The Syrian civil war has set Syria’s national standard of living back by decades – destroying health care systems, schools and water and sanitation facilities.
 
Hundreds of thousands of people have died, 5.1 million Syrians have fled the country as refugees and another 6.3 million Syrians are displaced within the country. Half of those affected are innocent children. These Syrian children have witnessed atrocious forms of violence – and are the most affected by this war.
 
Explore facts about the Syrian refugee crisis and learn how you can help Syrian refugees.
 
  1. What is happening in Syria?
  2. How can I help Syrian refugees?
  3. How did the Syrian civil war start?
  4. Why are Syrians fleeing?
  5. Where are Syrian refugees going?
  6. How is the Syrian civil war affecting children?
  7. What do Syrian refugees need?
  8. How is World Vision responding to the Syrian refugee crisis?
1) What is happening in Syria?
  • Syria’s civil war has been ongoing for seven years. The fighting is happening between soldiers who support the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, and rebel fighters who no longer want Assad in power.
  • The city of Raqqa, ISIL’s former stronghold in Syria, was retaken by a coalition of fighters supported by the United States in October 2017.
  • In 2017, at least 47 cases of polio were detected in Syria, which was polio-free before the civil war. In the rest of the world, only 20 other cases were reported in the first nine months of the year.
  • World Vision’s work in northern Syria benefits many people who fled Aleppo during intense fighting in late 2016. Before the civil war, Aleppo was a financial and industrial center and Syria’s largest city; it also contained a large population of Christians. Now it is reduced to the second-largest city in Syria and recognized as the worst-hit during Syria’s civil war.
  • 13.5 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance as a result of the civil war that began in 2011.
  • The most recognizable stories from the Syrian refugee crisis so far have been that of 2-year-old Alan Kurdi and 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh.
 
2) How can I help Syrian refugees?
Donate: You may be wondering how to help Syrian refugees. While the conflict in Syria is complex, making a difference is not. You can give through our Raw Hope program, and your donation will be used to provide life-saving resources to Syrian children and children living in other dangerous countries.
 
You’ll also help provide: essentials like nutritious food, clean water, sanitation, shelter, basic household item; safe spaces where children can play and learn; medicine and health care; programs to prevent sexual violence and support survivors of abuse.
 
Volunteer: Many Syrian refugees who have migrated to Canada may need a little extra help getting settled into their new homes. The Government of Canada has a number of resources available to Canadians who are looking for ways to welcome refugees into their communities. Visit The Government of Canada website for more information.  
 
3) How did the Syrian civil war start
On March 15 2011, protestors calling for government reform took to the streets of southern Syria, after teenagers accused of painting revolutionary slogans on a school wall were arrested and tortured. As the pro-democracy movement spread through the country, it was met with strong government crackdowns and increasing violence on both sides.
A decimated apartment building in Syria
This apartment building in Aleppo, Syria was once home to families. Now it lays in ruins. (Photo: Chris Weeks, World VIsion 2016)
 
By the following year, Syria was embroiled in a civil war, and the Syrian military was opposing a growing number of militant groups. Conflict has torn apart the lives of Syrian children and families as government forces and militant groups fight to take rule and territory.
 
The country’s weakened governance, as well as the destruction of its social services and institutions make Syria a textbook case of a fragile state.
 
4) Why are Syrians fleeing their homes?
Syrians flee their homes when life becomes unbearable. These are some of the top reasons they cite:
 
Violence: Since the Syrian civil war began, an estimated 470,000 people have been killed, including about 55,000 children, reports the Syrian Center for Policy Research. The war has become deadlier since foreign powers joined the conflict.
 
Collapsed infrastructure: Within Syria, 95 percent of people lack adequate healthcare, 70 percent lack regular access to clean water. Half the children are out of school. The economy is shattered and four-fifths of the population lives in poverty.
 
Children in danger and distress: Syrian children — the nation’s hope for a better future — have lost loved ones, suffered injuries, missed years of schooling, and experienced unspeakable violence and brutality.
 
More than half of Syria’s population have fled their homes. About 5.1 million Syrians are refugees who’ve left the country. Another 6.3 million people who have left their homes are still in Syria — they are internally displaced persons, or IDPs.
 
5) Where are Syrian refugees going?
The Middle East: The majority of Syria’s 5.1 million refugees have fled – by land and sea – across borders to neighbouring countries, but remain in the Middle East.
  • 3 million Syrian refugees are currently in Turkey.
  • 1 million Syrian refugees are currently in Lebanon
  • 660,000 Syrian refugees are currently in Jordan
  • 242,000 Syrian refugees are currently in Iraq.
  • 122,000 Syrian refugees are currently in Egypt.
A map showing where Syrian refugees are going, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq 
This map shows where refugees have relocated within the Middle East, 

Canada: As of January 2017, 40,081 Syrian refugees were resettled in Canada as part of the Government of Canada’s Syrian Refugee Resettlement initiative. According to the Government of Canada website, these efforts are ongoing: “Our missions overseas continue to process Syrian refugee cases as quickly as possible. As a result, Syrian refugees continue to arrive in Canada as part of our ongoing resettlement efforts.”
 
Europe: At the peak of the European migrant crisis in 2015, 1.3 million Syrians requested asylum in Europe. Since then, the number of new asylum seekers has declined significantly.
 
The United States: The United States admitted 18,000 Syrian refugees between October 2011 and Dec. 31, 2016.
 
6) How is the Syrian civil war affecting children?
The civil war has stolen the childhood of millions of Syrian children and affected their long-term physical and mental health. Many children caught up in this crisis lost family members and friends to the violence and have suffered physical and psychological trauma. They’ve also had to leave school, decreasing their prospects for the future. Many Syrian refugee children end up working in dangerous or demeaning circumstances for little pay to support their families.
A Syrian refugee child looking up.
A young Syrian boy. Photo: World Vision Canada

Other ways that children living in Syria and Syrian refugee children are affected:
  • Diseases and malnutrition: Children are susceptible to ailments brought on by poor sanitation, including diarrheal diseases like cholera. They may miss vaccinations and regular health checkups, especially in cut-off areas. In poor housing, cold weather increases the risk of pneumonia and other respiratory infections.
  • Child labor and child soldiers: Many Syrian refugee children have to work to support their families. Often, they work in dangerous or demeaning circumstances for little pay. Warring parties forcibly recruit children who serve as fighters, human shields, and in support roles, according to the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report.
  • Child marriage and abuse: Children are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation in the unfamiliar and overcrowded conditions found in camps and informal tent settlements. Without adequate income to support their families and fearful of their daughters being molested, parents may opt to arrange a marriage for girls, some as young as 13. In 2016, rates of child marriage reached 20 percent in Lebanon and over 30 percent in Jordan.
  • Lack of education opportunities: At the end of the 2016 school year, only 61 percent of conflict-affected children had access to some form of schooling. More than 760,000 displaced children had missed an entire year or more. In Syria, the war reversed two decades of educational progress. One-third of schools are not in use because they have been damaged, destroyed, or occupied.
7) What do Syrian refugees need?
Syrians fleeing conflict often leave everything behind. So they need all the basics to sustain their lives: food, clothing, healthcare, shelter, and household and hygiene items. Refugees also need reliable supplies of clean water, as well as sanitation facilities. Children need a safe environment and a chance to play and go to school. Adults need employment options in cases of long-term displacement.
 
8) How is World Vision responding to the Syrian refugee crisis?
World Vision is responding to the Syrian refugee crisis by providing aid to children and families in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, as well as Iraq, which has also suffered from conflict and humanitarian crises. Since the Syria civil war began, we have helped more than two million people in the region.
 
Syria: Healthcare, hygiene support, water and sanitation, shelter repair kits, psychosocial support to women and children, and winterization supplies
Jordan and Lebanon: Personal and household supplies, clean water and sanitation, education and recreation, Child-Friendly Spaces and child protection training for adults, winter kits, and psychosocial support to women and children
Iraq: Food aid, health services, water and sanitation, baby kits, and winter supplies such as stoves; for children: education, recreation, and programs in life skills, peacebuilding, and resilience
 
Contributors: Brian Jonson and Patricia Mouamar, World Vision staff in Lebanon and Jordan; Chris Huber, Kathryn Reid and Denise C. Koenig, World Vision U.S.; Alicia Dubay, World Vision Canada.