Syria Crisis explained

30 March 2017

A Syrian refugee child holds free medicine given to her by a mobile clinic run by CAFOD partner Caritas Lebanon.

CAFOD's local partners in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq are responding to the Syria Crisis.

As Syria’s civil war stretches into a sixth year, it has become the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. According to the UN the conflict has killed over 310,000 people and caused large-scale displacement, estimating that 6.3 million Syrians have been made homeless inside the country, and that more than half the country’s pre-war population, 14.9 million people, are in need of urgent humanitarian aid – food, water, shelter and protection.

Donate to our Syria Crisis Appeal

As of March 2017, over 5 million Syrians had registered as refugees in neighbouring countries.

Thanks to the compassion and generosity of Catholics across England and Wales, our partners are providing vital emergency aid – food, shelter and medical care – to vulnerable families both inside Syria and in neighbouring countries.

Watch this update from Laura Ouseley, a member of the CAFOD World News team, who recently visited Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

What is happening in Aleppo?

The northern Syrian city of Aleppo has endured four years of conflict which culminated with intense bombing and fighting in November and December 2016. On 22 December 2016, the siege of East Aleppo came to an end and thousands of civilians were evacuated. 

Patrick Nicholson, Director of Communications for Caritas International, visited Aleppo in February 2017 and provided CAFOD with this account:

“The end of four years of fighting has diverted world attention from Aleppo. But if the city is at peace, it is the peace of the tomb. East Aleppo, where the government drove out opposition forces after fierce fighting and constant aerial bombardment, is an assault on the senses, a scene of unimaginable destruction. Yet there are people living in the ruins, mostly women and children.

“How they endure is hard to say. There is no electricity, heating, water, food or work. Not a school or hospital has been left standing – there is only rubble.

“Caritas is one of the few aid agencies operating here, providing a lifeline.”

Tens of thousands of Syrians who fled the traumatic bombing of East Aleppo are now crowded into temporary shelters in northern Syria. CAFOD has pledged £20,000 to a Caritas partner on the ground who are providing emergency support to hundreds of recently arrived families from Aleppo.

How is CAFOD responding in the countries affected by the conflict in Syria?

Syria – We are supporting Church partners in Syria, who are providing food parcels, medical aid and relief supplies and helping people to find safe places to stay, in areas held by both government and opposition forces. We are also helping people in northern Syria make a living. The extensive community networks of the Church mean that it is well placed to provide aid in some of the worst hit and most inaccessible areas of the country.

Unfortunately, we are unable to name our partners in Syria or state exactly where they are working. This is because many of the aid workers, priests and volunteers we support are operating at great risk to their own safety; publicising their work could endanger both them and the life-saving programmes they are delivering.

Please donate to our Syria Crisis Appeal

Lebanon – We are working with our partner, Caritas Lebanon, who are providing food, household items like kitchen kits, accommodation support and multipurpose cash grants, which allow people to prioritise their own needs. Caritas Lebanon also supports with medical and legal assistance and with psycho-social counselling. Over the winter, we also provided items such as blankets and mattresses for vulnerable Syrian families facing the harsh winter in informal settlements in the Bekaa Valley.

We are also working with partners in Lebanon to provide peace education programmes to children and young people, helping them to take forward positive roles to address their communities’ challenges. Our partners are also helping women affected by the crisis with academic and personal development initiatives, including developing leadership skills so they are better able to take up active leadership roles now and in a future Syria.  

Read about our ‘Lost Family Portraits’ photography project in Lebanon 

Jordan – Our partner Caritas Jordan helps over 200,000 refugees and migrants each year with food, shelter, water and sanitation, as well as support for education and creating safe areas for vulnerable refugees.

Turkey – We have worked with our local partners to distribute food vouchers to vulnerable refugee families and have supported counselling and child friendly spaces.

Iraq – We are working in Iraq to help our Church partners to respond to the urgent needs of families forced from their homes, with food, water and shelter.

How many refugees do regional countries host?

While Turkey hosts almost 3 million Syrian refugees, four other Middle Eastern countries, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt, also share the burden. These five countries are currently home to just under 5 million Syrians. Lebanon hosts 1 million refugees, currently; one person in every five in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. Jordan hosts 657,000 refugees, making up 10 per cent of its population. Iraq hosts around 233,000 refugees, while Egypt is home to around 120,000 refugees. There are also more than 29,000 Syrian refugees registered in North Africa.

There are over 62,000 refugees in Greece, many of whom are fleeing conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Find out more about the refugee crisis in Europe

What’s life like for refugees living in neighbouring countries?

The refugees are living wherever they can find shelter - in make-shift camps, cowsheds, derelict or half-built buildings, even in the open air. Children are often traumatised after seeing their parents killed or homes destroyed in front of them. They urgently need peace and the opportunity to go home and rebuild their lives.

How much has CAFOD’s Syria Crisis Appeal raised?

Since the launch of our Syria Crisis Appeal, the Catholic Community in England and Wales has donated more than £3.7 million, allowing us to continue to work with our partners to deliver emergency aid to tens of thousands of vulnerable Syrian families.

What does CAFOD believe is the solution to the Syrian civil war?

In a statement CAFOD’s Syria Crisis Programme Manager said:

“As a member of the UN Security Council as well as the G8 group of leading economies, Britain must not only use all its influence to bring about a political settlement of the conflict, but must ensure that British foreign and domestic policy does not help to prolong it.

“This means that the international community should not set preconditions for peace talks, and those actively engaged in the conflict should not receive political or financial backing.

The UK Government also needs to ensure that Syrians from non-armed groups, including representatives of civil society, faith leaders and community groups, are part of a truly inclusive peace process.”

What can I do to help?

Please donate to our Syria Crisis Appeal

Please join us in praying for refugees around the world

Read and share our Lost Family Portraits stories 

Find out more about the crisis - use our resources for children and young people

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