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Updated September 14, 2015


The magnitude of the Syrian refugee crisis was brought home in early September when photos of a drowned Syrian boy found washed ashore on a Turkish beach rocked international media. With Syria’s war in its fourth year, a growing number of refugees are attempting to reach Europe – with increasingly deadly outcomes. The deteriorating conditions and growing desperation of families affected by the conflict has been a wake-up call for the global community to recognize its responsibility toward these refugees and proactively address one of the greatest humanitarian challenges of modern day.

“You have to understand, no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” – Warsan Shire (British-Somali poet who immigrated to the United States)

Key Data

  • Syria has suffered four years of armed conflict, which began as pro-democracy protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war.
  • More than 200,000 Syrians have died since the conflict’s onset.[i]
  • Nearly 12 million Syrians (more than 50% of the country’s pre-conflict population of 22 million) have been displaced[ii]; at least 7.6 million are within Syria, and nearly 4 million live as refugees in neighboring countries.[iii]
  • Neighboring countries have borne the brunt of the crisis, with Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey struggling to support nearly 4 million new arrivals.[iv]

Key Relief Issues

  • Access to healthcare: [v]More than 600 medical professionals have been killed in Syria and 15,000 doctors have fled the violence wracking the country.
    • Half the country’s public hospitals are destroyed.
    • The consequences of this damaged infrastructure and “brain drain” have been an increase in communicable diseases, increase in maternal mortality from unattended births, decrease vaccination rates and unattended injuries.
    • Food insecurity: Years of conflict have devastated Syria’s agriculture sector and more than 9.8 million people within the country are now classified as food insecure.[vi]
    • Disproportionate effect on children: Syria’s children are caught in the crossfire of the conflict – nearly 50% of all Syrian refugees are under the age of 18.[vii]
    • Limited access to education: The decline in education for Syrian children has been rapid – 2.7 million (42%) of Syria’s 6.4 million school-age children are not attending school due to destruction and occupation of Syrian schools.[viii]
    • Increased poverty / declining development: Unemployment is at 50%, and four out of five Syrians live in poverty. Since 2011, the country has lost nearly four decades of human development.[ix]

International Response

  • In December 2014, the U.N. issued its largest appeal for any single crisis – $8.4 billion to meet the needs of all those affected by the crisis. Presently, it has received only 50% of its funding request.[x]
  • The head of the United Nation’s refugee agency recently pressed the European Union (EU) to accept 200,000 asylum-seekers fleeing conflict zones like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.[xi]
  • EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, pressed EU countries to agree to a plan to share 160,000 refugees across its member countries next year.[xii]
  • Under the plan, Germany and France will take on the lion’s share – 31,443 refugees and 24,031 refugees, respectively.[xiii]
  • The UN anticipates more than 850,000 people to cross into Europe by next year, meaning only a fraction of refugees will be assisted by this plan.[xiv]

The U.S. has also volunteered to offer resettlement to 10,000 refugees next year.[xv]

Background About The Syrian Conflict

The Syrian Civil war is a conflict between its long-standing government and opposition forces aiming to boot it out of office. It dates back to 2011, when pro-democracy protests swept through Syria as part of regional unrest known as the Arab Spring. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad responded to these protests with a massive use of force to crush dissent, prompting protesters to form groups and to eventually arm themselves against him. 

By 2014, Syria was divided between pro-government, rebel, Islamic State (ISIS) and Kurdish forces. (The Kurds, an ethnic minority, have long sought independence). Presently, there are as many as 1,000 armed opposition groups in Syria and a persisting stalemate between government forces and the rebels.[xvi] Both sides are accused of atrocities against civilians. The official U.S. position is support for moderate rebels and an aggressive stance against ISIS. [xvii] The U.S. Russia, Britain and France continue discussions about approaches to achieving peace in Syria.

Recommended Relief Organizations

UNICEF: In 2013, 300,000 children in Syria and 300,000 children in neighboring countries had access to UNICEF education services.
To improve access to education for Syrian children Donate here.

Emergency Relief
CARE: is working to help Syrian refugees meet their most urgent needs, including relief supplies, cash assistance, hygiene kits, food and essential medicines for hospitals and access to education. To date, CARE has reached more than 600,000 refugees across the region.[xviii]
To provide emergency assistance to Syrians, Donate here.

International Medical Corps (IMC): is providing essential medical services, including primary care, mental health / psychosocial support and distribution of medical supplies in Syria and neighboring communities. Since 2011, IMC has trained nearly 4,000 clinicians, seen 440,000 patients and provided 62,000 mental health consultations in Syria.

World Food Programme (WFP): delivers food to more than four million people every month inside Syria and provides electronic food vouchers to 1.5 million refugees living in neighboring countries. In addition to general food distribution, WFP has tailored programs for vulnerable populations, including a school feeding program and outreach to pregnant women / nursing mothers.[xx] 
To help WFP continue providing food to Syrians, Donate here

Women and Girls
Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC): women and girls are most vulnerable in humanitarian crises, particularly to sexual violence and exploitation. WRC is working in Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon to build the capacity of local women’s organizations, develop guidance on appropriate livelihoods for displaced women and youth, host workshops for adolescent girls and capture the impact of humanitarian work by tracking 300 Syrian women.
To support WRC, Donate here.