Syria Crisis explained
6 February 2019
As Syria’s civil war enters its eighth year, it remains the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.
According to the UN, the conflict has killed over 400,000 people and caused large-scale displacement. An estimated 6.1 million Syrians have been made homeless inside the country, and more than half the country’s pre-war population, 13.1 million people, are in need of urgent humanitarian aid – food, water, shelter and protection.
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.
How is CAFOD responding in the countries affected by the conflict in Syria?
Thousands of Syrian refugees are in urgent need of emergency assistance following days of snow and freezing temperatures.
CAFOD's Syria Crisis Manager Alan Thomlinson said: “This is probably the worst winter since the beginning of the Syrian war, eight years ago. Although winter provisions were in place, nothing could have prepared us for this storm.
“Many families are living in makeshift shelters not suitable for the freezing conditions. Now, because of the storm, they are being forced to watch what little they have wash away in flash floods.
“Even before the storm, refugees were living in poor conditions – many of the camps are built on farmland, which is prone to flooding. This combined with wind, rain, snow, and freezing conditions is enough to push the situation from precarious to catastrophic.”
Storm Norma, which has brought flooding in addition to the harsh winter conditions, has affected at least 151 informal camps, housing 11,000 refugees, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
Alan continued: “Our local partners who have been providing vital aid to Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley, are doing all that they can to support the vulnerable, including the elderly, children and disabled people, so they can survive another unforgiving winter.”
“Many families are living in makeshift shelters not suitable for the freezing conditions. Now, because of the storm, they are being forced to watch what little they have wash away in flash floods."
Over the winter, we provided items such as blankets and mattresses for vulnerable Syrian families facing the harsh winter in informal settlements in the Bekaa Valley.
We are working with our partner, Caritas Lebanon, who are providing primary health care and psychosocial services, accommodation support for vulnerable families and multipurpose cash grants, which allow people to prioritise their own needs.
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.
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.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that 673,414 refugees have registered in Jordan.
Our partner Caritas Jordan helps over 200,000 refugees and migrants each year with multipurpose cash grants, food, and shelter, as well as support for education and creating safe areas for vulnerable refugees.
In November 2014, the government of Jordan announced that Syrian refugees will no longer receive free treatment in public health facilities.
In response, Caritas Jordan began providing healthcare services to extremely vulnerable refugees who had to leave their country fleeing persecution, physical and psychological harm.
Over the past three years, nearly 300,000 medical visits have taken place to support vulnerable refugees from Syria and Iraq, and Jordanians, with primary health care.
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.
“We were born here and stayed throughout the crisis. We thought about running away but where would we go? Fear controlled us.
“Muslims and Christians lived together when we were trapped here. We shared food and became closer.
“Our house was badly damaged. We are repairing it little by little. We have new windows and doors, have tiled the floor, plastered the walls, and rebuilt the balcony.
“We still have no heater or water. We need to put a sealant on the roof as it leaks when it rains. But we are happy now and thankful for the help we received.”
Ali, 36, lives in Homs, with his wife Hiba and their three children.
What is the current state of the crisis?
In March this year, the Syrian civil war will have entered its eighth year. It remains the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.
As the Syrian government forces complete's its offensive in southwestern Syria, attention has moved to the province of Idlib in the northwest of the country, described as the last remaining stronghold of opposition control.
Before the conflict, the population of Idlib is said to be around 1.5 million. Today, the UN estimates that the population has doubled to around 3 million.
Most of the arrivals to Idlib have come from other towns and cities inside of Syria – Aleppo, eastern Ghouta, Homs or Dar’aa - areas that were handed over to Syrian government forces in surrender deals or military defeats.
In September 2018, an agreement between Russia and Turkey to create a buffer zone has to date avoided an immediate all-out assault by Syrian government forces. However, this ongoing buffer zone is a ‘delay’ rather than a solution to ending the conflict.
In January 2019, US forces announced they would withdraw from Syria.
Alan Thomlinson, Emergency Programme Manager for the CAFOD and SCIAF Joint Programme for the Syria Crisis, said:
“The situation in Idlib remains very complex – but respect for humanitarian law and the protection of civilians must remain paramount.
“We believe that a political solution is the only way to achieve lasting peace for the Syrian people. This is the only way to prevent immense human suffering and ensure the safety and protection of civilians trapped in the region.”
“The International community must work to bring all parties to the conflict to a peaceful resolution of the war and ensure a political settlement to the conflict.”
How many refugees do regional countries host?
While Turkey hosts over 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 over 5 million Syrians. Lebanon hosts around 1 million refugees, currently; one person in every five in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. Jordan hosts 655,000 refugees, making up 10 per cent of its population. Iraq hosts around 246,000 refugees, while Egypt is home to around 126,000 refugees. There are also more than 30,000 Syrian refugees registered in North Africa.
There are around 20,000 refugees in Greece, many of whom are fleeing conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
What’s life like for Syrian 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 about the need for an inclusive peace process, 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.”