Syria: 5 things to know in 2020

March 10, 2020
Written by Olivia Giovetti
Photo by Gavin Douglas

As the conflict enters its tenth year this month, here are 5 things to know about the impact of the Syrian crisis in 2020.

Since early 2011, the Syrian conflict has resulted in enormous suffering for millions of people, displacing an estimated 12 million Syrians (nearly half of the estimated pre-war population). Of the displaced Syrians, 5.4 million are living as refugees in neighboring countries — namely Turkey (3.6 million), Lebanon (nearly 1.5 million), and Jordan (over 650,000).

As the conflict enters its tenth year this month, here are 5 things to know about the impact of the Syrian crisis in 2020.

A refugee camp in north-west Iraq. 11,000 people have fled from Syria to this camp with an estimated 500 more people crossing the border per day.
With the winter weather closing in, the need for services and supplies is increasing.
Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide

1. Displaced Syrians face challenges and trauma caused by displacement

As the conflict approaches its tenth year, families have been forced to flee their homes and become displaced to new locations as many as nine times or more. While one round of displacement is very traumatizing, multiple displacements present an unimaginable psychological burden for each person as they adjust to living in a new and unfamiliar area.

Once people are displaced from their own homes (and the social structure and nourishing environments of their home and community), they become extremely vulnerable and often suffer acutely as they are regularly deprived of food, water, health care, and other essentials. This suffering increases with each displacement, whether it is to camps, informal settlements, or living with host communities. These situations often offer less safety and dignity resulting in greater hardship.

Concern staff working with a Syrian refugee who has received supplies while living in displacement. Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern Worldwide

Over the years of conflict, and as the areas of attack changed, Syrians usually fled with the bare essentials that they could carry. Sudden and violent onset of displacement, has deeply disrupted the psychosocial well-being of children and adults by shredding family and community networks. As Syrians fled, or for many who continue to flee, documentation and other items ensuring their identity get lost. In the continued search for a safe place to live mothers, fathers, and children flee without state identification causing issues around moving within the country (due to roadblocks and checkpoints), as well as around seeking refuge in neighboring countries.

As this is a protracted conflict resulting in a complex emergency, the needs of displaced people in Syria, who are very vulnerable, continue to increase.

Syrian refugee Ayda*, 57, right, shows Concern’s WASH field officer Aisha Allaywa the crack in her tent. Water from the last rain leaked inside the room where Ayda sleeps with her daughter, son-in-law, seven grandchildren. Photo: Dalia Khamissy/ Concern Worldwide (name changed for security reasons)

2. Civilians are suffering the most

By many accounts of Syrians still living in the country, the violence is not confined to bombing, missile attacks, and the destruction of cities like Idlib, Aleppo, and Raqqa. Rather, it has seeped into every aspect of Syrian life. Before the conflict, many Syrians lived in relative harmony. However, since 2013, (when we first began working in Syria), many civilians Concern has spoken with have told us that they don’t feel safe or secure in any environment — including their own homes. Personal security, now an alien feeling, is no longer taken for granted.

With the conflict now entering its tenth year, available resources in Syria will continue to diminish, along with the ability of enjoying a safe and decent livelihood. The deteriorating economic situation is causing household assets to further be strained. The UN’s latest Humanitarian Needs Overview report from March 2019 indicates that 15.5 million Syrians are still living without water, sanitation, and hygiene support. Within these 15.5 million people living in Syria, there are 13.2 million (over 70% of whom are female) in need of health support and protection assistance including safe and dignified shelter (4.7 million). Among other needs in Syria are the dependency of 9 million Syrians on food assistance as well as livelihoods support to earn an income in local markets.

3. The conflict is gendered

The war in Syria affects men, women, boys, and girls in starkly different ways that often reinforce existing gender inequalities. — especially among extremely vulnerable people. Throughout the conflict, Syrian men and women have often had to take up negative coping mechanisms to survive and support their families. 

Gender-based violence (GBV), domestic violence, sexual harassment, and sexual violence have increased across the country, with many women reporting that their husbands are quicker to resort to violence as the external conflict takes an increasing psychosocial toll within the home. The conflict has led to a vast amount of single female-headed households without a primary breadwinner.

Ghazal* (30; name changed) with her children and extended family. Ghazal’s returned to Syria, leaving her to fend for herself and their family. She has 4 children of her own and they live in this tiny tent with her extended family and their children in Lebanon. Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern Worldwide

Negative coping mechanisms have increased as a result of depleted resources and eroded social cohesion. Women and children are disproportionately affected by this, with rising levels of girls’ early marriage, youth recruitment into armed groups, and child labor with boys and girls entering the workforce to help their families survive.

Men also face greater risk of arrest, detention, harassment from the security services, recruitment into armed groups, disappearance, and death. The elderly and those with disabilities, particularly those with limited family support, have a wide range of unmet needs in displacement situations with sporadic service delivery.

All these changes have led to shifts in household dynamic, social order and community structure as different people take up non-traditional roles in society.

4. We’re running the risk of a “lost generation” 

The war has directly affected children’s access to education in Syria. A March 2019 report by UNICEF suggests that 40% of Syria’s school infrastructure has been destroyed in the conflict, creating huge gaps in the provision of education, and adverse protection risks. 

Currently, there are 2.1 million Syrian children out of school, some for up to 6 years. Before the war, Syria had a high attendance rate for primary school — 97% — but education was halted by conflict as it was (and remains) unsafe for children to go to school. This has limited their ability to participate in education and limits their future ability to live full and creative lives. The longer the conflict continues the greater the risk there is for an entire generation of young Syrians becoming “lost” due to a lack of access to safe, quality education.

Khaled*, 3, pictured in the family home which has been kitted out by Concern with toilets, water tanks, blankets and insulation for the winter, by Concern, in Lebanon. Photograph by Mary Turner/Panos Pictures for Concern Worldwide

5. Weather is a threat multiplier

Despite its high temperatures of up to 111º F in the summer months, Syria has bitterly cold winters. Temperatures can drop below freezing between the months of November and February. This is also true of the surrounding areas that host many Syrian refugees: Winter storms in Lebanon last year affected many of the informal refugee settlements. For Syrians living in poor housing conditions (regardless of where), shelter, warmth, and hot nutritional meals continue to be a priority. 

Weather events have a ripple effect on other areas of need: Serious flooding in early 2019 in Syria damaged crops and affected food security, leaving 21,000 acres of land underwater and displacing thousands of families.

Get updates on our work in Syria — and beyond

Concern in Syria

Concern Worldwide has been responding to the crisis in Syria since 2013. Our teams on the ground are providing food and non-food items, including plastic sheeting, floor mats, solar lights, and blankets. Maintaining a very rapid emergency response, our turnaround time is generally 2 days for assessment and distribution. Areas of focus include:

  • Food Security and Livelihoods support has been delivered in the form of cash or voucher support to over 337,000 beneficiaries
  • Protection, including the delivery of child-friendly spaces, self-healing and learning spaces, and gender-based violence prevention to approximately 1,000 beneficiaries
  • Education access for children in non-formal education centers benefitted over 15,000 beneficiaries
  • Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Assistance, including activities such as hygiene kits, rehabilitating water systems, emergency water trucking, hygiene promotion and vector control benefiting over 900,000 beneficiaries

Concern Staff member, Aisha plays with Nafa* (3). Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern Worldwide *Name changed for security reasons.

According to a 2016 estimate by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) 83% of the population are now living below the poverty line. Coping mechanisms are severely depleted and basics like food, education, and shelter becoming harder and harder to access.

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