Syria conflict, 11 years on

  • After eleven years of conflict, more than 60% of Syrians - 12 million people - are facing hunger and wondering how they will put food on the table for their families.
  • It has become common for children to drop out of school to work and provide for their families, or for families to resort to child marriage as a way of coping with rising poverty.
  • Conflict and displacement are being compounded by the impact of COVID-19, drought, and a collapsing economy. The recent invasion of Ukraine could push food prices higher for already cash-strapped families.
Read our statement
Country facts
  • Population: 17.5 million
  • People displaced by crisis: 12.3 million
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 151 of 189
IRC response
  • Started work in Syria: 2012
  • People assisted: Nearly 1.2 million in 2021

Syria crisis briefing

Eleven years of war in Syria have left millions of people in need of aid. The vast majority of Syrians now live in poverty. Through programmes coordinated by our teams based in Syria, Iraq and Jordan, the IRC provides emergency and long-term services to displaced families and Syrians who have stayed in their homes.

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 neighbouring 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.

6.7 million people are still displaced inside Syria and 13.1 million are in need of humanitarian aid. Many civilians have been left living in perpetual conflict zones and have been displaced multiple times. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to a range of safety issues including sexual violence, early marriage, child labor, and physical and mental trauma.

Syria is also the deadliest country in the world for humanitarians. Attacks on aid workers, civilians, homes and hospitals remain common. The health system has been decimated, undermining Syrians’ ability to cope with the challenges of COVID-19.

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, responding to needs in northwest and northeast Syria. Our programmes 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, poverty and now COVID-19 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;
  • confronting COVID-19 by promoting awareness campaigns and training health workers in infection prevention and control;
  • providing food and 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, counselling 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 counselling and skills training;
  • supporting early childhood development, including remotely during COVID-19, 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;
  • supporting Syrian refugees in Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon.

“The pandemic is just one of many challenges that IRC’s teams and the people we serve have had to contend with over the past ten years. Through everything, we keep going,” says Taj-aldein Alkaisi, area coordinator for the IRC in Syria. “If people need help, our team is there to provide it. Even when they themselves are facing the worst, our staff’s motivation doesn’t stop – and it is their unrelenting dedication and determination to help people that makes our response inside Syria possible.”

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 neighbouring 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.

Rescue stories

When I heard that my child was feeling better and had even gained weight, I was so excited, and I showed my appreciation to the medical personnel. I was so excited, especially when I saw him smiling.
Mother and her son in North East Nigeria Malnutrition clinic
30-year-old Naima lost everything when the insurgencies happened in northeast Nigeria. Her family were left without enough food and her youngest child Hadi fell ill. Naima took her son to the IRC's mobile clinic where she was referred to the IRC’s stabilisation centre. Naima stayed at the centre with her son, caring for him in partnership with our trained staff, nursing him back to full health.
Her Story
Naima
Mother in North-East Nigeria