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, Kathryn Reid, World Vision U.S.
Updated April 7, 2014 at 11:00am PDT

More than 1.2 million Syrian children are refugees, the United Nations says. Ongoing fighting, and the country’s first polio outbreak since 1999 have complicated aid efforts and driven some families deeper into despair.

With the war now in its fourth year, here’s some background on the growing humanitarian crisis and World Vision’s response to the needs of refugee children and their families.

How many people have fled their homes?

As of April 1, more than 6.5 million people have been displaced within Syria, and more than 2.6 million have fled as refugees to neighboring countries.

Does the number of refugees show any sign of slowing?

No. Thousands of refugees are leaving Syria every day. In 2013, nearly 2 million sought safety in another country. Their main destinations are Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.

What are the refugees’ greatest needs?

Refugees lack adequate shelter, clean water, food, and hygiene items.

Most left their homes on short notice after facing shootings, bombings, and artillery fire. Often, they arrive in the country of refuge with little more than the clothes they are wearing. Some have not even had a chance to grab their identity papers.

In recent months, cold and rain have been hard on many families who lacked adequate clothing and heat.

Where are the refugees living?

More than 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.

Almost 600,000 refugees have settled in Jordan, mostly with host families or in rented accommodations. About 106,000 live in Za’atari, a camp near the northern border with Syria.

What risks do children face?

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

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.

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.

Many children have lost their homes or witnessed violence and destruction. They continue to need food provisions, household supplies, education, and counseling to help them cope with their circumstances.

What is the impact on refugee children’s education?

After three years of conflict, at least 3 million children have left education. For children in Syria, the reasons are many: schools destroyed or occupied by warring groups or displaced families, teachers absent or deceased, and insecurity.

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 some cases children must give up school and start work to help provide for their families.

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.

How is World Vision responding?

World Vision provides aid within Syria and to refugees and host communities in Lebanon and Jordan.

In Syria, the organization provides food aid, health care, and water and sanitation services and infrastructure.

In Lebanon and Jordan, aid includes distributing personal and household supplies and providing clean water and sanitation.

Programs for children include remedial and supplemental education so they can return to school, as well as Child-Friendly Spaces —  safe areas where children can play and recover from emotional scars.

With reporting from World Vision communications staff Brian Jonson and Patricia Mouamar in Lebanon, and Meg Sattler in Jordan.

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.


  • More than 9 million Syrians have been displaced by the fighting — 6.5 million within Syria, and about 2.6 million as refugees in neighboring countries.
  • 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, hygiene kits, clothing, Child-Friendly Spaces, fuel, stoves, and shelter materials.

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