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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 close to 1 million people—half of them are children—who are struggling to survive a war now in its ninth year.

What's happening

  • COVID-19 cases have risen by 1,000% across northeast Syria, where just 522 people per million are being tested. This raises concerns of a hidden, and far wider, spread of the virus, especially among civilians displaced by a decade of war.

  • The IRC is calling on the United Nations Security Council to urgently reopen the Yaroubiya aid crossing point, so that health care and lifesaving aid can reach tens of thousands of Syrians in need.

  • Al Hol camp, the largest in northeast Syria--with a population density over three times that of New York City--is especially badly affected by the pandemic.

  • “Northeast Syria has been cut off from an indispensable lifeline at a time when the global COVID-19 pandemic demands the deployment of all available resources." says IRC president and CEO David Miliband.

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Country facts
  • Population: 18.4 million
  • People displaced by crisis: 11.7 million
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 154 of 188
IRC response
  • Started work in Syria: 2012
  • People assisted: Nearly 1 million in 2019

Syria crisis briefing

Since 2011, the war in Syria has left 11.1 million people in need of aid, including 5 million with acute needs. The United Nations estimates that more than 400,000 people have died, while other sources place the death toll at over 500,000. The vast majority of Syrians live in poverty. Through programs coordinated by our teams based in Iraq, Jordan and Syria, 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?

Since 2011, Syrian society has been torn apart by brutal violence, creating one of the largest humanitarian crises of the 21st century. Millions have fled to neighboring countries. At the peak of hostilities, many Syrians chose to risk their lives in search of safety and opportunity in Europe.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Syria?

Since 2011, fighting in Syria has led to the destruction of homes, schools and hospitals— including IRC-supported facilities—and devastated life-sustaining civilian infrastructure and services including water, sanitation and electricity systems.

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

6.1 million people are still displaced inside Syria and 11.1 million need emergency assistance. Meanwhile, 10.2 million Syrians live in areas that are affected by fighting or explosive hazards. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to a range of safety issues including sexual violence, early marriage, child labor, and physical and mental trauma.

Recent fighting in northwest Syria has uprooted nearly a million Syrians—triggering the largest displacement in the country’s nine-year-old war.

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 2019, the IRC helped more than 900,000 Syrians inside their country. This included 612,000 people treated in IRC-supported clinics and mobile health teams and helping over 56,000 women and girls—many survivors of assault and abuse—find safety and support. We also helped more than 112,000 people with job training and cash or vouchers to help them buy food and other essentials. We reached 3,500 children with early childhood development activities and more than 100,000 children attended IRC-run safe spaces to play and receive psychosocial support.

Syrian baby being treated at a children's clinic in Idlib, Syria
Eight-month-year-old Zaid was admitted to a children’s clinic with severe bronchitis. The clinic is run by the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) with support from the IRC in Idlib province. Photo: IRC

Our programs are coordinated by our teams based in Iraq, Jordan and Syria—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;
  • supporting early childhood development to reverse the harmful effects of early stress and trauma caused by crisis and displacement;
  • building households’ economic stability with job training, apprenticeships, and small business support.
Syrian children in Idlib, Syria
Syrian children in Idlib, Syria, enjoy a day of fun and games at a safe space run by the IRC. The center offers children the chance to learn, develop new skills and be creative. Photo: Abdullah Hammam/IRC

Here's a closer look at our work:

Northwest Syria

The situation in northwest Syria, the last major area controlled by opposition forces, is deteriorating by the day due to the recent escalation of violence there. Nearly one million people have been forced to flee their homes in Idlib and western Aleppo since the beginning of December. Approximately 80 percent are women and children. Close to 500 civilians have been killed as a result of the intensifying hostilities.

The health situation in Idlib was already dire due to a shortage of medical supplies. Over 80 health facilities have been forced to suspend operations since December 1 – more than 50 in January alone – including two supported by the IRC. 31 facilities have been successfully relocated but, while they were out of action, more than 106,000 medical outpatient consultations were suspended, nearly 11,000 trauma patients were not served, and 2,000 major surgeries were not performed as they normally would have been.

“My two-year-old daughter fears any sound she hears,” says one mother who fled Idlib. “She runs behind me or under a mattress and screams ‘warplane’ even though she is very young and knows nothing. All the kids have the flu, colds, coughs, and fever. But all we can do is cover them with blankets.”

The IRC and its partners are supporting 20 health facilities, seven mobile clinics. and two ambulance fleets in northwest Syria. We provide urgent cash assistance to families to help them pay for food and other essentials, and provide critical aid to vulnerable women and girls, pregnant women, the elderly, and others who need special care. We provide psychosocial support to help children and their families.

In addition, the IRC has two centers in northern Idlib where we have helped thousands of Syrians hone job and business skills through apprenticeships, start-up grants and vocational training.

Northeast Syria

Deep uncertainty and fear affect 1.6 million people living in northeast Syria. A military offensive last October forced 176,000 people, including 80,000 children, to abandon their homes—many of them having been displaced multiple times during the brutal ISIS rule. Even before the renewed fighting, one in three people in the region were relying on humanitarian assistance in order to survive.

The majority of the newly displaced are staying in shelters, many of them in schools converted for this purpose, and in newly established displacement camps in Hasakah and Raqqa governorates. Others are living in the devastated city of Raqqa, which remains littered with unexploded mines and lacks basic services such as electricity.

The IRC runs centers providing support for women and girls in the camp, and supports mothers through distribution of essential items to help them take care of their babies. We also provide lifesaving primary health care services at centers and through mobile medical teams. Currently we are supporting eleven static facilities and six mobile medical units in Hasakah, Raqqa and Deir ez Zor. We also provide mental health services and emotional support across all our medical facilities, supporting nine clinics offering a range of psychological and psychiatric services.

The IRC delivers a comprehensive package of protection services, including case management and psychosocial support, as well as safe spaces for women and children and legal awareness sessions. In addition, the IRC distributes food and provides cash assistance to new arrivals to camps, collective centers and makeshift shelters, and recently provided vulnerable mothers with ‘newborn kits’ that include diapers, baby clothes, a crib, blankets, hygiene items and other essential items.

We are going to deploy an additional four mobile medical teams in Hasakah and Raqqa, establishing a pediatric facility in Al Hol Camp and a primary health care clinic in Areesha camp.

We are also supporting vulnerable people to secure a source of income through providing access to work in which they can earn some money, vocational training courses, apprenticeships and business grants.

Syrian girl inside Syria
More than half of all Syrians are displaced from their homes, which makes Syria is the world's largest displacement crisis. Photo: IRC

What still needs to be done?

More than half of all Syrians are displaced from their homes, which makes Syria the world's largest displacement crisis. 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 the crisis at the forefront of our efforts and to achieve measurable improvements in safety, health, and economic well-being.

We will continue to support uprooted Syrians and host communities, with a particular focus on women and children. The IRC is committed to reaching the most vulnerable and hard-to-access areas throughout the country.

IRC teams and partners currently reach over 1.2 million people inside Syria and in neighboring countries—Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon—with lifesaving support. In the next several years, we’ll focus on the following areas:

Safety

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.

Health

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.

Our impact

In 2019, the IRC and our partner organizations in Syria provided:

612,000+

patients with primary, reproductive and trauma care in clinics and through our mobile medical teams.

This Syrian paramedic in Eastern Ghouta risks shelling and airstrikes to save countless lives.

Read his story.
56,000+

women and girls—many survivors of assault and abuse—find safety and support.

Her family scattered by war, this Syrian grandmother gets support at a women’s center.

Read Hila's story
112,000+

people with job training and cash or vouchers to help them buy food and other essential items for their families.

Economic wellbeing means people have their most basic survival needs met and have sustainable income and assets so they can prosper.

Explore our economic work.

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