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What You Need to Know: Conflict in Syria, Children, and the Refugee Crisis

Below are some fast facts about the crisis and an overview of the conflict in Syria, its impact on children, the refugee situation, and how we are helping.

| By World Vision staff



Fast Facts:

  • Nearly 12 million Syrians have been forced from their homes by the fighting; half are children.
  • At least 7.6 million have been displaced within Syria, and more than 4 million have fled as refugees in neighboring countries.
  • Increasing numbers of refugees are making dangerous attempts to reach Europe. About 51 percent of them are from Syria, the UN Refugee Agency says.
  • Children affected by the Syrian conflict are at risk of becoming ill, malnourished, abused, or exploited. Millions have been forced to quit school.
  • Since the beginning of this crisis, World Vision has helped more than 2 million people in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq.
  • In response to the migration toward Europe, we are now also providing aid in Serbia.


A nation and region ruined by war

Syria’s conflict has devastated the nation. More than 240,000 people have been killed, including 12,000 children. One million more are wounded or permanently disabled. An upsurge in fighting has complicated aid efforts and driven some families deeper into despair.

Refugees are fleeing to neighboring countries, and increasingly to Europe. The resulting chaos in Hungary and a heart-wrenching photo from the coast of Turkey have caught the attention of the world in recent weeks.

Here’s some background information on the humanitarian needs in the fourth year of war in Syria.

How many people have fled their homes?

More than half of the country’s population of 22 million has been forced to leave their homes. Many of them have moved multiple times since the conflict began in March 2011.

At least 7.6 million people are internally displaced (IDPs) within Syria, and more than 4 million have fled as refugees to neighboring countries.

More: A Google map perspective of a refugee’s foot journey from Syria to Serbia

An estimated 4.8 million people are in areas of Syria that are difficult to access because of the conflict. It’s hard for aid groups to reach them.

About half of those displaced are children.

Increasing numbers of refugees are attempting to reach Europe. Of the nearly 478,000 people who have arrived to Europe by sea in 2015, 54 percent of them come from Syria, the UN Refugee Agency says.

Does the number of refugees show any sign of slowing?

No. In the first five months of 2015, more than 700,000 people were newly displaced, including more than 430,000 within Syria.

The 4 million Syrian refugees have relocated primarily to Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan. Increasing numbers are attempting to reach Europe.

Since the beginning of the Syria refugee crisis, World Vision has helped nearly 2 million children and adults in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, by providing food, clean water, education, healthcare, and Child-Friendly Spaces.

Snapshots From the Lives of Syrian Refugees

What are the refugees’ greatest needs?

Refugees need food, clothing, health assistance, shelter, and basic household and hygiene items. They need reliable supplies of clean water, as well as sanitation facilities. They’ll need warm clothing, heaters, and heating fuel to get through the coming winter months.

The World Food Program recently had to cut food assistance to one-third of the Syrian refugees in the region, including 229,000 living outside of camps in Jordan. 

Children need a safe, protective environment and a chance to play and go to school. Adults need employment options in case of long-term displacement.

Where are the refugees living?

Turkey is hosting more than 1.9 million Syrian refugees. Iraq, facing its own armed conflict, is hosting about 250,000 Syrians.

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.

About 630,000 refugees have settled in Jordan, mostly with host families or in rented accommodations. About 80,000 live in Za’atari, a camp near the northern border with Syria, and about 23,700 live in another camp, Azraq, where World Vision set up much of the water and sanitation system.

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.

According to the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2015, warring parties in Syria forcibly recruit children to serve as fighters, human shields, and in support roles.

World Vision President Rich Stearns and Gabe Lyons of Q Ideas on the Refugee Crisis

What is the impact on refugee children’s education?

Between 2.1 and 2.4 million school-age children are not attending school. In Syria, 5,000 to 14,000 schools have been damaged, destroyed, or occupied since 2011. The decline in education for Syrian children has been the sharpest and most rapid in the history of the region, according to UNICEF.

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 helping?

Since the beginning of this crisis, World Vision has helped more than 2 million people in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. We are now also providing aid in Serbia in response to thousands of refugees fleeing to Europe to escape violence in their homelands.

We’re distributing food and hygiene items to assist families traveling through Serbia on the refugee route. Hygiene kits will be distributed as soon as they are received in Serbia. We’re also preparing to expand our work to include child protection services.

We’ve also begun distributing baby packs, including items for mothers, in the Subotica and Kanjiza camps in northern Serbia, near the Hungarian border. The kit includes diapers, baby cream, baby soap, wet wipes, a toy, toothbrush, toothpaste, hand disinfectant, shampoo, sanitary pads for mothers, and cotton swabs.

World Vision continues to provide aid to refugees and host communities 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 safe places where children can play and recover from emotional scars.

We are also working in northern Syria, providing critical food aid, hygiene support, health assistance, and water and sanitation.

Displaced Iraqis in the Kurdish northern region benefit from food aid, health services, and children’s programming. We also recently furnished 5,000 baby kits for a local partner to distribute to newly-arrived Syrian refugees in Turkey.

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Reporting from Brian Jonson and Patricia Mouamar, World Vision communications staff in Lebanon and Jordan, and Chris Huber, Kathryn Reid, and Denise C. Koenig in the United States.

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