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Health workers treat displaced children in northeastern Syria
Shattered lives

Syria Crisis Watch

Across Syria, the International Rescue Committee provides lifesaving support to 1 million people—almost half of them children—who are struggling to survive a brutal war now in its seventh year.

Aid groups: Syria is not safe for refugees to return

  • Hundreds of thousands of refugees are at risk of being pushed to return to Syria in 2018, warn aid agencies including the IRC.

  • Aerial bombing, mortars and booby traps are still daily hazards, including in populated areas.

  • For every Syrian who returned home last year, three more were newly displaced.

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Country facts
  • Population: 22.8 million
  • People displaced by crisis: 12.3 million
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 134 of 188
IRC response
  • Started work in Syria: 2012
  • People assisted: over 1 million

Syria crisis briefing

Since 2011, war in Syria has taken more than 400,000 lives and left 13.5 million people in need of aid. Through programs coordinated from Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, the IRC provides emergency and long-term services to displaced families and Syrians who have stayed in their homes.  

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What caused the current crisis in Syria?

In 2011, anti-government protests broke out across Syria. The government used force to stop protesters, prompting many opposition groups to take up arms.

Syrian society has been torn apart by brutal violence, creating the largest humanitarian crisis of the 21st century.

An average of 6,000 families are forced to leave their homes each day due to fighting. Millions have fled to neighboring countries. As conditions worsen, many Syrians choose to risk their lives in search of safety and opportunity in Europe. 

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Syria?

Inside Syria, ongoing fighting has killed civilians, and decimated infrastructure and economic markets. Amid widespread violence, 1.7 million Syrian children have left school. Attacks on homes, schools and hospitals—including IRC-supported facilities—continue to rise.

A Syrians displaced woman walks through rubble
A displaced woman walks through rubble in northeast Syria after visiting an IRC mobile health clinic. Photo: IRC

Over 6.3 million people are displaced and 13.5 million need emergency assistance. Meanwhile, 4.9 million Syrians live in areas that are difficult or impossible for aid workers to reach.

Women and children are particularly vulnerable to a range of safety issues including sexual violence, child labor, and physical and mental trauma.   

How does the IRC help in Syria?

The IRC’s mission is to help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future.

We first began assisting Syrians in 2012, providing emergency relief and humanitarian aid to those uprooted by war. In 2016, over 1,000 IRC workers helped more than 1 million Syrians inside their country. This included 971,000 people treated in around 50 IRC supported clinics and mobile health teams, helping 24,000 women and girls–many survivors of assault and abuse–find safety and support, and providing an education and support to over 10,000 children and parents. The IRC also supported 13,500 Syrians to get vital documents to move more freely and access services, as well as provided thousands of Syrians with job training and cash or vouchers to help them buy food and other essential items for their families.   

Our programs are led by cross-border teams in Iraq, Turkey and Jordan—each providing support that is tailored to the communities they serve. As violence, displacement, and poverty wrack Syria, the IRC is escalating our response by: 

  • partnering with local and diaspora groups to ensure the uninterrupted flow of medicines, supplies, and equipment;
  • providing emergency cash assistance to help displaced families meet their immediate needs;
  • operating clinics and mobile teams to provide lifesaving trauma services, primary and reproductive care, dialysis and essential drugs; 
  • integrating mental health services into our primary care work;
  • running classes, counseling and protection services for thousands of children in camps and communities;
  • creating safe spaces for women and girls that offer services for survivors of violence, as well as counseling and skills training;
  • building households’ economic stability with job training, apprenticeships, and small business support.

What still needs to be done?

As the conflict continues and available resources inside Syria dry up, the IRC’s work is more critical than ever. We pledge to put the needs of those most affected by crisis at the forefront of our efforts and to achieve measurable improvements in safety, health and economic wellbeing. Here’s a closer look at some of the work we will be doing over the next few years to achieve our goals.

We will continue to support uprooted Syrians and host communities, with a particular focus on women and children. The IRC is also committed to reaching the most vulnerable and hard-to-access areas throughout the country. We will continue to expand our programs based on where there is the greatest need.

IRC teams and partners currently reach 1.3 million people in Syria and neighboring countries with lifesaving support. In the next several years, we’ll focus on the following areas: 


People should be safe in their homes and communities, and receive support when they experience harm. Women and children, in particular, should be safe in their schools, homes and workplaces.

As a global leader in safety, the IRC will continue to identify safety risks in camps and rural and urban communities. We help survivors of abuse access safe spaces, or take services to them via mobile health teams, and mobile outreach to women and girls. 

We monitor risks and rights violations at the home and in the communities, and help those who’ve lost civil documents safely restore papers so they can move more freely and access services. We put particular emphasis on the needs of female-headed households. 

We will also train teachers to help students who have experienced physical or emotional trauma, and support caregivers with skills to parent safely under stress and conflict. 


People should be protected from illness and receive medical treatment when they need it. The IRC will continue to work with local health care providers to grow our network of fixed and mobile health services. We will continue to save lives, ensure safe pregnancy and delivery, and provide essential primary care and chronic disease treatment in the toughest conditions  

Economic wellbeing

People should have the means to meet basic needs; they should have opportunities to earn an income and build their assets. The IRC aims to ensure that people can access food, water and shelter without falling into debt.

With a commitment to gender equality, we will also help women and girls achieve the same success as men and boys.

As in all our efforts, the IRC will strive to reach more people more quickly, increase the effectiveness of our work, listen to the concerns of those affected by our work, and hold ourselves accountable for results.


Download the IRC Syria strategy action plan to learn more about our program priorities through 2020.

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