FAQs: War in Syria, children, and the refugee crisis

Read our overview of the conflict in Syria, the refugee situation in neighboring countries, and World Vision’s response to the crisis.

By Chris Huber and Kathryn Reid, World Vision U.S.
Updated March 13, 2015 at 08:00am PDT

Nearly 2 million Syrian children are refugees, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports. An upsurge in fighting has complicated aid efforts as the conflict enters its fifth year.

Here’s background on the humanitarian needs in Syria and among refugees in the region

How many people have fled their homes?

About 3.9 million have fled as refugees to neighboring countries and more than 7.6 million people are internally displaced (IDPs) within Syria.

Does the number of refugees show any sign of slowing?

No. UNHCR registered about 900,000 new refugees in 2014, adding to the 2.3 million who had left Syria since war erupted in 2011. 

From January 2 to March 10, about 200,000 more people fled Syria for neighboring countries. Their main destinations are Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq, though conflict in Iraq now discourages that option.

What are the refugees’ greatest needs?

Refugees need food, clothing, stoves and fuel for heat and cooking, and basic household and hygiene items. They need reliable supplies of clean water, and sanitation facilities.

Children need a safe, protective environment and a chance to play and go to school.

Adults need employment options to provide for their families while displaced.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance says 12.2 million people inside Syria need some form of help, including millions of children who cannot go to school.  

Where are the refugees living?

More than 1.1 million refugees are in Lebanon. Many have taken up residence there in communities’ abandoned buildings, sheds, spare rooms, garages, and in tent settlements on vacant land.

Conditions are often crowded and unsanitary. Even so, families struggle to pay rent for these spaces.

Turkey hosts more than 1.6 million Syrian refugees. Iraq, facing its own armed conflict, is hosting about 244,000 Syrians. Nearly 620,000 refugees have settled in Jordan, mostly with host families or in rented accommodations.

About 84,000 live in Za’atari , a camp near the northern border with Syria, and about 15,000 live in Azraq , a camp that opened last April to ease the pressure at Za’atari.

What risks do children face?

Children are especially susceptible to malnutrition and diseases related to poor sanitation. Many suffer from diarrheal diseases and dehydration.

Because of the breakdown of the Syrian health system and lack of adequate immunization, there have been outbreaks of measles and even polio in Syria and among refugee children.

In some cases children become vulnerable when they must give up school and start work to help provide for their families.

Children are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation in unfamiliar and overcrowded conditions.

Without adequate income to support their families and fearful of their daughters being molested, parents—especially single mothers—may opt to arrange marriage for girls as young as 13.

What is the impact on refugee children’s education?

After four years of brutal conflict, 2.8 million children are out of school, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports. 

For children inside Syria, the reasons are many: insecurity, teachers absent or deceased, and schools destroyed or occupied by warring groups or displaced families.

For refugee families that don't live in camps, paying rent and other expenses can make it difficult for parents to afford books, uniforms, and tuition fees for their children.

In Lebanon, the government has opened public schools to Syrian children, but language barriers, overcrowding, and the cost of transportation  keep many refugee children out of school.

What is World Vision doing to meet people’s needs?

Since the war began, World Vision has helped more than 1.8 million people in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria.

Aid efforts include distributing personal and household supplies, providing monthly food vouchers, stoves and fuel for heating and cooking, and providing access to clean water and sanitation facilities.

Programs for children include remedial and supplemental education so they can return to school, as well as safe places where children can play and receive counseling to help cope with their difficult circumstances.

In northern Syria, World Vision has reached 300,000 people through water source rehabilitation, primary health, vaccination, and nutrition programs, provision of household supplies and cold-weather items, and food assistance.

In Iraq, World Vision is working to help 220,000 people with a variety of provisions, including monthly food vouchers, cash assistance, clean water, clothing, household supplies, and Child-Friendly Spaces. 

With reporting from Brian Jonson and Patricia Mouamar, World Vision communications staff in Lebanon, Meg Sattler in Jordan, and Chris Huber and Kathryn Reid in the United States.

Learn more

How you can help

  • Pray for children and families impacted by the violence in Syria. Pray especially for families who have been separated due to the conflict, and pray for emotional and physical protection for vulnerable children and families. Consider using our prayer points as a guide.
  • Make a one-time donation to help those affected by conflict in Syria. Your contribution will help provide essentials like hygiene kits and established Child-Friendly Spaces, as well as stoves, fuel, and shelter materials.
  • Speak out. Join us in calling on world leaders to take action to ensure the immediate protection of children.

Highlights

  • An estimated 11.4 million Syrians have been displaced by the fighting — more than 7.6 million within Syria, and 3.9 million as refugees in neighboring countries.
  • Nearly 2 million Syrian children are refugees.
  • Refugee children are at risk of becoming ill, malnourished, abused, or exploited. Millions have been forced to quit school.
  • World Vision is assisting Syrian refugee families with interventions like clean water, sanitation, cash assistance to purchase food, hygiene kits, basic household goods, clothing, Child-Friendly Spaces, and education programs.

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