There are 6.6 million Syrian refugees in the world, scattered in at least 130 countries. Over 5.5 million of them – four out of five Syrian refugees – live in Syria’s neighbouring countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Furthermore, some 6.7 million Syrians remain displaced in their own country.
Their lives have not gotten any easier over the years; on the contrary, with the devastating impact of COVID-19, 2021 could prove to be the most difficult year for them so far. A lot of the past development and achievements to support refugees become self-reliant and facilitate their access to education, health and other services are at risk of being eroded.
Poverty is on the rise. Food insecurity is a growing threat. Access to education and health care have decreased. Protection risks, especially for the most vulnerable like women, children and the elderly, are increasing. And the COVID-19 pandemic is further exacerbating these challenges.
Close to one million Syrian refugees, along with 4.4 million members of their host communities, may have fallen into poverty in Jordan, Lebanon and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq after the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, in addition to those who were already living in poverty and under extreme poverty levels.
The needs of displaced Syrians are higher than ever, as the following facts clearly demonstrate:
More than 70% of all Syrian refugees now live in poverty.
In Lebanon, the situation is particularly severe, due to the overall economic crisis: 89% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon now live in extreme poverty, compared to 55% in 2019.
In Jordan, four out of five Syrian refugees were living under the national poverty line even before the pandemic, surviving on about HK$23 a day or less. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, poverty among them is estimated to have increased by 18% points.
Some of the past gains on enhancing food security in the region have been lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Lebanon, half of all Syrian refugees struggle to put food on the table. In Turkey, 55% of refugee families had to reduce adults’ food consumption to allow for their children to eat.
In Egypt, unaccompanied and separated children are becoming increasingly vulnerable due to the pandemic, and cases of gender-based violence continue to be reported.
UNHCR has been working on the ground, providing lifesaving support both in Syria and the neighbouring countries, since the start of the conflict.
And yet – 11 years on, the desperate situation of displaced Syrians is like a new emergency. Our response continues to be severely underfunded, and the needs are growing every day.
UNHCR’s funding requirements for the Syria Emergency Situation in 2021 amount to US$1.996 billion and are only 11% funded as of 23 February 2021.
We need your support to address the increasing humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees.
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The Syrian crisis continues to have profound impact on the lives of ordinary families mainly women and children who face protection risks and need a wide range of humanitarian assistance. The extent to which essential services such as schools, health facilities, electricity and water supply have been affected has had far reaching implications on the daily lives of ordinary people. Although some of the affected population has returned to communities of origin to restart their lives, recovery efforts are confronted with the harsh reality of growing economic challenges ranging from the devaluation of the local currency to high prices of essential goods and services.
The inability of individual households to meet their basic needs remains even further compounded by the global COVID-19 Pandemic with its attending negative health and socio-economic impact on already vulnerable communities in Syria. UNHCR with the support of donors is working with the government and partners to assist those in need of humanitarian assistance under its refugee programme and the wider Syrian humanitarian response as the lead Protection, Non-Food Item and Shelter sector agency.
Summary of achievements by numbers
Between January and October 2020, UNHCR Syria provided community-based protection to 864,696 displaced persons, returnees and host community members.
How we started in Syria
UNHCR started its operations in Syria to respond to the displacement crisis inflicted by the first Iraqi war in 1991, including, but not limited to 8,000 refugees hosted in Al Hol camp, near the Syria-Iraq border. The Iraqi refugee influx was followed by the arrival of Somali refugees in 1992, then Yemeni refugees in 1995.
As a result of the 2003 war in Iraq, over 70,000 to 100,000 Iraqis had sought refuge in Syria by the end of 2003. Moreover, following subsequent hostilities in Iraq, at the end of 2009, 1.1 million Iraqis sought safety in Syria, including 206,000 registered with UNHCR, making Syria into the third largest refugee-hosting country globally. UNHCR scaled up its operations to provide protection, assistance and durable solutions.