From the Field

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

Since March 2011, conflict has devastated Syria. Now it is internationally recognized as the largest refugee and displacement crisis of our time. The Syrian civil war has set back the national standard of living by decades — now that healthcare, schools, and water and sanitation systems have been damaged or destroyed.

Syrian children and families have witnessed unspeakable violence and bear the brunt of the conflict. Hundreds of thousands of people have died, 5.1 million Syrians have fled the country as refugees, and 6.3 million Syrians are displaced within the country. Half of those affected are children.

Explore facts and FAQs about the Syrian crisis, and learn how you can help Syrian refugees and displaced families:


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Fast facts: What is happening in Syria?



How can I help Syrian refugees?

  • Pray: Lift up the needs of Syrian families caught up in conflict, refugee children, and aid workers.
  • Give: When you donate, you become a vital partner in World Vision’s work to help refugees in the Middle East.
  • Speak up: Ask Congress to prioritize the refugee crisis in humanitarian funding decisions.



What started the Syrian civil war?

The Syrian civil war officially began March 15, 2011, when peaceful protestors calling for government reform took to the streets in southern Syria. As the movement spread through the country, it met with strong government crackdowns and increasing violence on both sides.

By the following year, Syria was embroiled in a civil war, with the Syrian military opposing a growing number of militant groups. Conflict has torn apart the lives of Syrian children and families as government forces and militant groups fight to take and rule territory.

The country’s weakened governance, as well as the destruction of its social services and institutions, make Syria a textbook case of a fragile state.



Why are Syrians fleeing their homes?

Syrians flee their homes when life becomes unbearable. These are some of the top reasons they cite:

  • Violence: Since the Syrian civil war began, an estimated 470,000 people have been killed, including about 55,000 children, reports the Syrian Center for Policy Research. The war has become deadlier since foreign powers joined the conflict.
  • Collapsed infrastructure: Within Syria, 95 percent of people lack adequate healthcare, 70 percent lack regular access to clean water. Half the children are out of school. The economy is shattered and four-fifths of the population lives in poverty.
  • Children in danger and distress: Syrian children — the nation’s hope for a better future — have lost loved ones, suffered injuries, missed years of schooling, and experienced unspeakable violence and brutality.

More than half of Syria’s population have fled their homes. About 5.1 million Syrians are refugees who’ve left the country. Another 6.3 million people who have left their homes are still in Syria — the internally displaced persons, or IDPs.

Mohammed almost waited too late to get his family to Lebanon safely. Bombs destroyed their house and shop; his brother was killed. Other families say their turning point was when militants occupied their school or their hospital was destroyed.



Where are Syrian refugees going?

The majority of Syria’s 5.1 million refugees have fled — by land and sea — across borders to neighboring countries, but remain in the Middle East (as of June 2017):

Syrian refugee crisis map of where refugees have fled to escape a violent civil war.

  • Turkey – 3 million Syrian refugees are currently in Turkey.
  • Lebanon – 1 million Syrian refugees are currently in Lebanon.
  • Jordan – 660,000 Syrian refugees are currently in Jordan.
  • Iraq – 242,000 Syrian refugees are currently in Iraq.
  • Egypt – 122,000 Syrian refugees are currently in Egypt.

At the peak of the European migrant crisis in 2015, 1.3 million Syrians requested asylum in Europe. But the number of new asylum seekers has declined significantly since then.

In contrast, the United States admitted only 18,000 Syrian refugees between October 2011 and Dec. 31, 2016. Read the story of Washington state resident, Cari Conklin, who was among a group who greeted the first Syrian family to arrive in Seattle November 2015 — Bassam Alhamdan, his wife, Rabah, and their six children. They had escaped hell in Syria, suffered terribly as refugees in Jordan, and then were given the miraculous opportunity to come to the U.S.



How is the Syrian civil war affecting children?

The Syrian civil war has stolen the childhood of millions of children and affected their long-term physical and mental health and prospects for the future. Many children caught up in this crisis lost family members and friends to the violence, suffered physical and psychological trauma, and had to leave school.

  • Diseases and malnutrition: Children are susceptible to ailments brought on by poor sanitation, 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.
  • Child labor and child soldiers: Many refugee children have to work to support their families. Often they work in dangerous or demeaning circumstances for little pay. Warring parties forcibly recruit children who serve as fighters, human shields, and in support roles, according to the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report.
  • Child marriage and abuse: Children are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation in the unfamiliar and overcrowded conditions found in camps and informal tent settlements. Without adequate income to support their families and fearful of their daughters being molested, parents may opt to arrange a marriage for girls, some as young as 13. In 2016, rates of child marriage reached 20 percent in Lebanon and over 30 percent in Jordan.
  • Lack of education opportunities: At the end of the 2016 school year, only 61 percent of conflict-affected children had access to some form of schooling. More than 760,000 displaced children had missed an entire year or more. In Syria, the war reversed two decades of educational progress. One-third of schools are not in use because they have been damaged, destroyed, or occupied.

If you could see through eyes of a Syrian refugee child, what would life look like? In an informal tented settlement in Lebanon, we asked children to show us. These are the scenes they wanted to share. Read more about how the war is affecting Syria’s children in a special report from World Vision magazine, “Syria Crisis and the Scars of War.”



What are Syrians’ greatest needs?

Syrians fleeing conflict often leave everything behind. So they need all the basics to sustain their lives: food, clothing, healthcare, shelter, and household and hygiene items. Refugees also need reliable supplies of clean water, as well as sanitation facilities. Children need a safe environment and a chance to play and go to school. Adults need employment options in cases of long-term displacement.



What is World Vision doing to help Syrians affected by conflict?

World Vision provides aid to children and families in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, as well as Iraq, which has also suffered from conflict and humanitarian crises. Since the Syria civil war began, we have helped more than 2 million people in the region.

  • Syria: Healthcare, hygiene support, water and sanitation, shelter repair kits, psychosocial support to women and children, and winterization supplies
  • Jordan and Lebanon: Personal and household supplies, clean water and sanitation, education and recreation, Child-Friendly Spaces and child protection training for adults, winter kits, and psychosocial support to women and children
  • Iraq: Food aid, health services, water and sanitation, baby kits, and winter supplies such as stoves; for children: education, recreation, and programs in life skills, peacebuilding, and resilience




Brian Jonson and Patricia Mouamar, World Vision staff in Lebanon and Jordan; Chris Huber, Kathryn Reid, and Denise C. Koenig, World Vision U.S. staff.


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