From the Field

Syrian refugee crisis: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

The conflict in Syria has caused immense suffering for the Syrian people, with hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, both within the war-torn country and as refugees since the fighting started in 2011. The humanitarian situation in Syria remains dire, with many people lacking essentials, including food, clean water, and healthcare. The catastrophic February 6  earthquake has added more misery to the complex layers of suffering, making Syrian children and women more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

FAQs: What you need to know about the Syrian conflict and refugee crisis

Explore facts and FAQs about the war in Syria, and learn how to help Syrian refugees and families displaced within the country.

Fast facts: What is currently happening in the Syrian conflict?

  • The conflict that began as a forceful crackdown on peaceful student protests against the government of Syria on March 15, 2011, and escalated to full-scale violence, now enters its 12th year.
  • An estimated 15.3 million people (almost 7 out of 10) in Syria will require life-saving aid in 2023.
  • 6.8 million people are displaced within Syria — the largest number in the world and the highest number of people in need since the start of the conflict.
  • Neighboring Turkey hosts over 3.5 million refugees, the largest refugee population hosted by a single country worldwide.
  • More than 6.5 million children in Syria need emergency aid due to the ongoing conflict.
  • About 2 million Syrian refugee children are out of school and an additional 1.6 million are at risk of dropping out.
  • A 7.8 magnitude earthquake on February 6 and a series of aftershocks devastate a large swath of northwest Syria and southeast Turkey (officially the Republic of Türkiye), killing thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.


Help refugee children and families fleeing violence.

A mother bends down to press her hand on a pile of sticks and stoke a fire to ward off winter’s cold from her young daughters.
In northwest Syria, a Syrian family displaced by a devastating earthquake huddles near a makeshift fire to stay warm. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake killed more than 47,000 and affected millions more people along the Syria–Turkey border. (©2023 World Vision)

How did the 2023 earthquake affect the Syrian refugee crisis?

The February 6, 2023, earthquake and series of aftershocks rattled a beleaguered border region of Syria and Turkey. The disaster damaged or destroyed homes, public infrastructure, roads, schools, hospitals, and telecommunications networks. The needs are immense.

  • In Turkey, the earthquake impacted a region of 15 million people. Those caught up in the catastrophe include thousands of Syrian refugees and the communities that have generously hosted them for 12 years.
  • Families displaced by the conflict in northwest Syria now live in temporary tents, flimsy shelters, and partially destroyed buildings. The disaster comes amid harsh winter weather, adding more misery to their everyday life.

“Entire streets and villages have been reduced to rubble, whole families killed, and millions left homeless. People already living in extreme poverty have lost what little they had,” said Johan Mooij, director of World Vision’s Syria crisis response in Amman, Jordan. “Prior to the quakes, six or seven people were sharing tents due to the scale of displacement from the conflict. Now it’s 16 or 17 people in each tent. This is a humanitarian emergency that is catastrophic in historic terms, that requires an aid response that is historic in its generosity.”

World Vision warns that it could take a generation for survivors to recover, and maybe longer in northwest Syria, where millions were already living on humanitarian aid with few prospects of their lives improving.

Learn more about World Vision’s response to help vulnerable families impacted by the 2023 earthquake.


Displaced by war, a Syrian mother and her daughter crouch to peel and cut potatoes in a makeshift kitchen in Syria.
Aida (left, name changed to protect identity) is a Syrian mother who is blind. She prepares a meal for her children in a displacement camp near the Turkish border, a region battered by the 12-year war in Syria. World Vision is helping support Aida and her family with emergency food and essentials and also responding to support thousands of families impacted by the deadly earthquake in February 2023. (World Vision 2022)

How has the ongoing war in Syria affected the country today?

The more than decade-long Syrian conflict has devastated the country and its people, with far-reaching consequences that continue to impact the nation today. Emergencies, including the recent earthquake, a global food crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a cholera outbreak, have exacerbated conditions.

  • Loss of life: The conflict has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, including civilians and the fighting factions.
  • Destroyed infrastructure: Ongoing conflict has significantly damaged the nation’s roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, and homes. People can’t access essential services due to the widespread devastation.
  • Economic impact: With many businesses and industries damaged or disrupted, the nation has experienced high unemployment and widespread poverty.
  • Displacement: Millions of Syrians have been displaced from their communities, with 5.5 million refugees living in neighboring countries. The widespread displacement has led to a humanitarian crisis, with many people struggling to access life-saving essentials like food, water, and healthcare.


What is the Syrian refugee crisis?

War in Syria has created the largest refugee and displacement crisis of our time, affecting millions of people and spilling into surrounding countries.

  • More than half of Syria’s population is displaced from their homes by the continuation of war, and an estimated 15.3 million will need emergency aid in 2023.
  • Approximately 5.5 million are refugees and asylum-seekers. (Asylum-seekers are people who’ve applied for refugee status.) And another 6.8 million are displaced within Syria.
  • Over 90% of Syrians live below the poverty line, and an estimated 12.1 million people are food insecure.


Where do Syrian refugees live?

Refugees from the war in Syria have sought asylum in more than 130 countries, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Still, most live in neighboring countries within the region, such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt. Turkey alone hosts the largest population, with 3.6 million Syrians living there.

  • Lebanon — More than 814,000 Syrian refugees, about 15% of all the refugees, live in Lebanon. Many live in informal tent settlements, which are not official refugee camps. With few legal opportunities to earn money, they struggle to afford residency fees, rent, utilities, and food.
  • Jordan — Over 661,000 Syrian refugees are in the country. Some 120,000 people live in the Za’atari and Azraq refugee camps, where aid groups have converted desert wastes into cities.
  • Iraq — Over 260,000 Syrian refugees are in Iraq. Most are in the Kurdistan region in the north, where more than a million Iraqis fled to escape ISIS. Most refugees are integrated into communities, putting a strain on services.
  • Egypt — More than 145,000 Syrian refugees are in Egypt.


A mother bends down to press her hand on a pile of sticks and stoke a fire to ward off winter’s cold from her young daughters.
Most refugees from Syria are still in the region. They’ve fled violence and sought refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. (©World Vision)

How has the Syrian conflict affected the children of Syria?

The war has had a devastating impact on children in Syria. According to the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than 8 million children are directly affected by conflict, with millions forced to flee their homes as refugees. Many Syrian children have never known a time without war. Here’s how the war is affecting Syrian children today.

  1. Displacement: The conflict has forced millions of children to flee their homes. They are living in makeshift camps, overcrowded shelters, or on the streets, often without access to basic necessities like food, water, and medical care.
  2. Diseases and malnutrition: Children are susceptible to ailments brought on by poor sanitation and hygiene, including diarrheal diseases like cholera. They may miss vaccinations and regular health checkups, especially in cut-off areas. In poor housing, cold weather increases the risk of pneumonia and other respiratory infections. Lack of access to healthy foods weakens them further.
  3. Education: The conflict has disrupted the education system in Syria, with many schools destroyed or closed. As a result, millions of children have been unable to attend school, and many have fallen behind in their education.
  4. Child marriage and abuse: Syrian children are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation in the unfamiliar and overcrowded conditions in refugee camps and informal tent settlements. Families desperate for income may be more prone to arrange marriages for their young daughters in exchange for dowries.
  5. Child labor: With their families struggling to make ends meet, many children have been forced to work in dangerous and exploitative conditions to help support their families.
  6. Recruitment: Both government forces and armed groups have been known to recruit children to fight in the conflict, putting them in harm’s way and robbing them of their childhood.
  7. Psychological toll: The ongoing violence and displacement have taken a severe toll on the mental health of Syrian children. Many have experienced trauma, anxiety, and depression, and have little access to mental health services.


What is World Vision doing to help Syrians impacted by the war?

World Vision quickly came alongside Syrian families who fled to Lebanon in 2011. Since then, our work has expanded to other countries hosting Syrian refugees and into Syria.

Since the beginning of the refugee crisis, we’ve helped more than 7.5 million children and their families in the region. World Vision continues to support the most vulnerable in Syria, Turkey, and Jordan, all of whom have suffered from ongoing conflict and the resulting humanitarian crisis.

  • In 2022, we reached more than 1.9 million people in Syria — 45% of whom are children — with life-saving aid through our health, child protection, education, nutrition, psychosocial support, livelihoods, and WASH programming.
  • From October 2018 to November 2020, World Vision led Facilitating Assistance to Syria Together (FAST), a consortium of humanitarian aid partners and local organizations, in its goal to support 3.6 million people in northwest Syria with emergency healthcare, shelter, and clean water and effective sanitation and hygiene. The two-year, $80-million project was funded by USAID.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, we provided access to remote remedial classes in host communities, vocational training activities with the appropriate physical distancing measures, hygiene kits and promotion of safe hygiene practices, and livelihoods and rehabilitation projects.

Children and their long-term needs are always our first priority as we continue to plan our programming.


How long has World Vision worked in the Middle East?

World Vision has been working in the Middle East region for nearly four decades. We’re dedicated to improving the lives of children, families, and the communities where they live through long-term sustainable development as well as responding to disasters and crises.


How can I help vulnerable Syrian children and their families?

You can help Syrian refugees by praying for them, using your gifts to support them, and learning more facts about the Syrian refugee crisis.

  • Pray: Lift up the needs of Syrian families caught up in conflict, refugee children, and aid workers.
  • Give: Become a vital partner in World Vision’s work to help refugee children and families.


Syrian refugees in Lebanon affected by a winter storm in January 2019. Warm clothes and hygiene kits are among the supplies Syrian refugees receive from World Vision in the aftermath of a devastating winter storm in Lebanon. World Vision brought aid to more than 2,000 people within three days of the Jan. 6 storm that brought rain, snow, and flooding.
Warm clothes and hygiene kits are among the supplies Syrian refugees receive from World Vision in the aftermath of a devastating winter storm in Lebanon. World Vision assisted more than 2,000 people within three days of the January 6 storm that brought rain, snow, and flooding. (©2019 World Vision/photo by George Mghames)

Syrian refugee crisis timeline

2010: Syria is a modern society built on the cradle of civilization.

2011: The Syrian conflict begins.

  • Violent crackdowns by Syrian authorities begin after peaceful protests in southern cities in March. Armed repression dashes hopes of Arab Spring reforms. Opposition groups organize but can’t seem to unite.
  • International sanctions and other attempts to pressure the government to moderate are futile.

2012: Syrians flee bombing and oppression.

  • March: Syrian refugees flood the impoverished Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. World Vision expands services, building on 10 years of children’s programming there.
  • July: Za’atari refugee camp opens in Jordan near the Syrian border. Though designed as a temporary settlement, it became home to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who have stayed for years.
  • August: Parties to the conflict commit war crimes, acts that violate accepted international agreements and may even involve actions against civilians, according to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

2013: Conflict increases.

  • March: Syrian refugees total 1 million.
  • World Vision aid work begins in Jordan for refugees and host communities, focusing on education as well as basic needs.
  • April: Use of chemical weapons by Syrian authorities under investigation.
  • We begin aid to displaced people in Syria, providing food, water, healthcare, and household supplies.
  • September: Syrian refugees total 2 million.

2014: Humanitarian needs increase, but access to people in need becomes more difficult for aid groups.

  • January: World Vision builds water and sanitation infrastructure to meet the needs of up to 30,000 people for a new refugee camp, Azraq.
  • April: Azraq refugee camp opens in Jordan; Lebanon hosts 1 million refugees, nearly one-sixth of the country’s population. The large number of refugees puts a severe strain on the nation’s social systems.
  • June: ISIS declares a caliphate in Syria and Iraq’s occupied territory. Syrian refugees number 3 million in countries neighboring Syria; 100,000 people reach Europe.
  • World Vision provides aid to Syrian refugees in the Kurdish region of Iraq, where there are about 250,000 Syrian refugees and more than 1 million Iraqis who have fled ISIS attacks. Our aid includes mobile health clinics, food vouchers, and water systems.

2015: Europe feels the pressure of Syrian refugees and migrants.

  • Hungary erects a border wall, then closes the border with Serbia to stop refugees from entering Europe.
  • The World Food Programme cuts rations to refugees in Lebanon and Jordan due to a funding shortfall.
  • September: The photo of 2-year-old Alan Kurdi (initially reported as Aylan Kurdi) shocks the world. “That could have been me,” Dr. Vinh Chung told CNN’s Carol Costello of Alan Kurdi. “The body of the lifeless toddler, face down, washed up on the beach is really chilling to me — because that could have been me.”
  • As more refugees attempt to reach Europe through the Balkans, World Vision provides food, water, hygiene goods, and rest places for women and children in Serbia.
  • Thousands of refugees arrive daily in Greece; 1 million refugees reach Europe during 2015.

2016: Years of war have devastated Syria.

  • February: U.S. and Russian delegates negotiate a temporary cessation of hostilities, sanctioned by the U.N., to send aid to hard-to-reach populations in Syria.
  • June: Jordan closes the border after a car bombing, trapping tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in no man’s land.
  • December: Civilians are caught in the crossfire as Syrian authorities retake Aleppo from rebels. A ceasefire to free them fails.

2017: Syrians seek safety, stability.

  • March: More than 5 million people have fled conflict in Syria.
  • April: A suspected nerve gas attack kills 58 people.
  • July: A ceasefire is brokered at the G20 meeting for southwest Syria. Clashes are ongoing in Daraa, ar Raqqa, Homs, and Hama provinces and the city of Deir ez-Zor.
  • More than 900,000 Syrians are displaced due to violence this year.
  • World Vision reaches 2.2 million people in the Middle East with aid. In 2017, we help nearly 15,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey. Working through partners, we provide access to legal services, protection, translation, and informal education to help them cope in their new environment.

2018: Conflict continues, limiting humanitarian aid.

  • Fighting continues, despite international agreements for de-escalation.
  • Insecurity limits humanitarian access, and 2.9 million people remain in hard-to-reach areas where aid is not supplied on a regular basis.
  • In 2018, World Vision distributes hygiene supplies to displaced families in Idlib and A’zaz, Syria, including people escaping attacks in Eastern Ghouta.

2019: Syrian refugees experience new hardships.

  • January to February: Winter storms batter Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan with snow, rain, heavy winds, and near-freezing temperatures. World Vision provides aid in Syria and Lebanon to Syrians affected by flooding and cold.
  • April to September: Conflict increases in northwest Syria resulting in healthcare facilities being destroyed and more than 400,000 people displaced from May to October. World Vision responds to the increased needs of children and families fleeing conflict in northern Syria.
  • October through December: In addition to health services, shelter assistance, and protection, World Vision provides for the water and sanitation needs of 181,000 people in Syria.

2020: More families flee.

  • February: About 900,000 people in northwest Syria have fled further north, toward the Turkey border, since conflict increased in December 2019. Many live in extreme cold and out-of-doors as schools and hospitals are targeted with bombardment.
  • July: The first case of COVID-19 is reported in Idlib, raising fears of an outbreak among internally displaced people. By August, reports surface of tens of thousands of confirmed COVID-19 cases in northwest Syria.
  • September: Two new COVID-19 cases are reported in Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, where more than 36,800 refugees live.
  • October: Continued fighting leads to more than 100,000 people being displaced along the Syria–Turkey border.
  • November 4: Attacks in Syria lead to the deaths of four children and two aid workers, staff from a local World Vision partner organization.

2021: Families face another year of conflict.

  • March 15: Now in its 11th year, the Syrian conflict has taken a massive toll, with 6.8 million refugees and asylum-seekers who’ve fled the country and another 6.9 million people displaced within Syria.

2022: Children continue to bear the brunt of sustained war.

  • May 10: The U.N. reports soaring humanitarian needs as food insecurity rises, with 12 million Syrians who go hungry every day. About 5.8 million children inside Syria need humanitarian aid, the highest number since the start of the crisis. At least 2.4 million children are out of school.

2023: Massive earthquake compounds crises.

  • February 6: A magnitude 7.8 earthquake devastates a wide swath of the Syria–Turkey border, a region mired in turmoil from the conflict, now in its 12th year. The powerful quake and aftershocks rattle the area, killing more than 47,000 people and creating widespread destruction in both countries.


Chris Huber and Sevil Omer of World Vision’s staff in the U.S and World Vision staff in Lebanon and Jordan contributed to this article.

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