Worsening conditions inside Syria and the region fuel despair, driving thousands towards Europe

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 September 2015, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Deteriorating conditions inside Syria and neighbouring countries are driving thousands of Syrians to risk everything on perilous journeys to Europe. As the crisis digs deeper into its fifth year with no sign of a political solution in sight, despair is on the rise and hope is in short supply.

Inside Syria, the last few months have been brutal. Fighting has intensified in almost all governorates, with rocket and mortar attacks on Damascus increasing, rising vehicle explosions in major cities like Lattakia, Aleppo, Homs, Hassakeh and Qamishli, and heavy bombardment in Zabadani and rural Damascus with ensuing retaliation driving thousands more people from their homes.

Amidst the escalating violence, people have lost their livelihoods as well as their homes; unemployment in all sectors is soaring alongside inflation, while the value of the currency plummets - the Syrian pound has lost 90 per cent of its value over the last four years. In most parts of Syria, electricity is available only 2-4 hours a day if at all, and many regions struggle with water shortages. More than half the population lives in extreme poverty. Despite the many challenges and volatile operating conditions, UNHCR continues to provide help to those in need throughout Syria, including providing relief items, cash, health care, shelter, psycho-social support and legal aid.

Syrians now face increasing challenges to find safety and protection in neighbouring countries, which, faced with overwhelming refugee numbers, insufficient international support and security concerns, have taken measures this year to stem the flow of refugees - including restricting access or closer management of borders and introducing onerous and complex requirements for refugees to extend their stay.

For the 4.08 million refugees already in neighbouring countries - the vast majority of whom live outside of formal camps - hope is also dwindling as they sinker deeper into abject poverty. Recent studies in Jordan and Lebanon, for example, have found a marked increase in refugee vulnerability amidst funding shortfalls for refugee programmes.

In Jordan, the situation for more than 520,000 Syrians living outside the country's refugee camps is increasingly dire. A recent UNHCR assessment showed that 86 per cent of those in urban and rural areas are now living below the poverty line, having exhausted any savings or other assets they once had. As a result, more than half of all refugee households have high levels of debt and are taking increasingly extreme measures in order to cope, such as reducing their food intake or sending family members - including children - out to beg.

A similarly bleak picture exists in Lebanon where the preliminary findings of a recent vulnerability study found 70 per cent of Syrian refugee households live far below the national poverty line - up from 50 per cent in 2014. Here too, more refugees are buying food on credit, withdrawing children from school and resorting to begging.

Against this backdrop, WFP has had to cut 229,000 refugees in Jordan from its food assistance this month - the latest and largest in a series of reductions in food aid across the region this year due to severe funding shortfalls.

The Syria Refugee and Resilience Programme for 2015 is currently just 37 per cent funded. No sector of the aid programme is unaffected. Across the region, some 700,000 Syrian refugee children across the region were out of school for the school year just passed. Very soon, many refugees who live in sub-standard shelters will face another winter in exile.

The majority of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon lack the financial resources to contemplate the costly and dangerous journey to Europe, and with no prospect of being able to return safely to Syria, the situation is leading to an increasing sense of desperation and entrapment. One 25-year-old mother of three from Damascus who lives in a storage unit in Jordan's northern city of Mafraq told UNHCR she feels like a prisoner in her makeshift home. Unable to go out or doing anything, she has lost all hope for the future.

There are 4,088,099 registered Syrian refugees in countries neighbouring Syria including 1,938,999 in Turkey, 1,113,941 in Lebanon, 629,266 in Jordan, 249,463 in Iraq, 132,375 in Egypt and 24,055 in several countries in North Africa. Only 12 per cent of refugees across the region live in formal refugee camps.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • Ariane Rummery in Geneva on +41 79 200 76 17
  • Helene Daubelcour in Jordan on +962 7 9889 1307
  • Lisa Abou Khaled on 961 71 880 070
  • Firas Al Khateeb in Syria on +963 930 403 228