Syria Crisis explained
18 February 2020
Since late April 2019, offensives and bombardments in north-west Syria, especially in Idlib, have escalated. Hundreds of civilians are reported to have been injured or killed, and vital services have been destroyed.
According to the UN, since 1 December 2019, more than 800,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. Sixty per cent of those newly displaced are children. The freezing weather is putting lives at risk, with several children reported to have died because of the cold weather.
Healthcare facilities have come under attack, and facilities have had to partially or completely suspend services. These centres were a lifeline to many in the area – dealing with over 170,000 consultations, nearly 3,000 operations and 1,400 new-born deliveries a month.
The humanitarian situation in north-east Syria has also worsened, and the escalation of fighting in the region has led to thousands of civilians fleeing their homes. CAFOD is supporting local aid workers who are assessing the situation and responding to the emergency.
In Al-Hasakah – a town in the region to which many people are fleeing – local aid workers are providing basic emergency aid and medical assistance, including clean water and hygiene kits (which contain a bowl, soap, shampoo, sanitary pads and toothbrushes, among other essential items).
What is happening?
The situation in Syria is perhaps the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.
According to the UN, the conflict in Syria has killed over 500,000 people. An estimated 6.2 million Syrians have been made homeless inside the country, and more than half the country’s pre-war population, 11.7 million people, are in need of urgent humanitarian aid – food, water, shelter and protection.
Many 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.
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 visited Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
How is CAFOD responding in the countries affected by the conflict in Syria?
We are working with our local experts, 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.
They 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.
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 supporting local Church organisations 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 local aid agency, 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 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 2019, the Syrian civil war entered its ninth year. It remains the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.
As the Syrian government forces completes 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, with around two-thirds of the population relying on humanitarian aid to survive.
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.
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 657,000 refugees, making up 10 per cent of its population. Iraq hosts around 230,000 refugees, while Egypt is home to around 130,000 refugees.
There are also more than 30,000 Syrian refugees registered in North Africa.
There are around 35,000 refugees in Greece, many of whom are fleeing conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
What’s life like for young Syrian refugees living in neighbouring countries?
Aya, 24, is one of the more than one million Syrian refugees living in neighbouring Lebanon. It is still a distant dream for Aya and her family to think about returning home, as the Syrian war enters its ninth year, they feel that it still isn’t safe.
“In Syria, I studied, I had lots of friends and did lots of activities outside of school,” she said. “We came just to spend the summer in Lebanon but then the crisis happened, and we’ve been here for seven years.”
“We have little hope of returning home. And for a young person like me, there are few opportunities. I’m here [in Lebanon] caught in the middle of this conflict.”
Aya is part of the ‘Youth Resolve’ project, supported by CAFOD and the EU MADAD Trust Fund – it offers young Syrian and Lebanese people the chance to bridge the divide through job skills training, education, and community activities such as renovating homes in their communities.
The project, which launched in 2017 has involved young people aged nine to 25, in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, reaching more than 100,000 people.
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.”
What can I do to help?
Find out more about the crisis - use our resources for young people