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Syrian refugee children at a shelter near the Lebanese-Syrian border.


In the spring of 2011, conflict broke out between the Syrian government and opposition groups demanding reforms. Since then, roughly 100,000 Syrians have been killed, and more than six million are thought to be displaced inside the country. The fighting and destruction continue to spread as the government and rebels struggle for control of the country. As of February 2014, more than 2.4 million Syrians have registered as refugees in neighboring countries, and refugees already in Syria from third countries are being displaced again in growing numbers. Government restrictions and violence by non-state armed groups limit aid agencies' ability to provide humanitarian assistance.

Current Humanitarian Situation

Best estimates as of February 2014 suggested that 6.5 million Syrians are internally displaced, while more than 9 million inside the country may be vulnerable and in need of humanitarian assistance. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent is the country’s main aid provider, but the Syrian government has heavily restricted which organizations may provide aid to whom, and in what form. As a result, the response to those in need has been inadequate even as their numbers grow weekly.

Before the conflict began, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) supported a large population of registered Iraqi refugees in Syria, primarily in and around Damascus. This population has remained heavily dependent upon humanitarian aid because employment opportunities are few. However, UNHCR has had to cut back its capacity by almost half due to the conflict, leaving some Iraqis without protection and services. Tens of thousands of Iraqis had fled back to Iraq as of June 2013 and are facing sectarian conflicts back home, as well as a lack of basic services and high unemployment.

Palestinians in Syria also face a difficult choice: to live in danger, or to seek refuge in a nearby country that may not welcome them. There have been reports of Palestinians inside Syria being specifically targeted by both government forces and rebels, as well as simply being caught in the crossfire. Scores of Palestinians who left for Jordan during 2012 have been held at a transit center on the border, forbidden to enter the country and unable to return to Syria in safety.

Field Reports
  • 05/12/2015
    Providing humanitarian aid in a conflict zone is a challenge all over the world. But perhaps no situation has proved more complex than that of Syria. A particularly stubborn and brutal regime, a fragmented opposition movement, and ever-changing alliances among fighting groups have resulted in an operational context defined by irregular access and major security risks for humanitarian workers. Every day, millions of vulnerable people across the country live with food and fuel shortages, homelessness, and an absence of vital medical care. Almost 5 million of those people are in places that are difficult for humanitarians to access. Syrian groups working inside the country have been able to offer some support in hard-to-reach areas and to a lesser degree in besieged areas where the United Nations and international non-governmental organizations do not send their staff. 
  • 04/29/2015
    There are millions of Syrians today who are living without a home. Almost 12 million women, men, and children are displaced either inside or outside of Syria. But within this population, there are tens of thousands for whom “home” is challenging even to define. These are the babies born to those displaced Syrians. In Turkey, where an RI team studied the issue in March, more than 60,000 Syrian babies have been born in exile, and these numbers will continue to increase as the civil war rages on. None of the neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees, including Turkey, provide citizenship just because a child was born in its territory. Even if a birth is recorded, Syrian nationality law only permits Syrian fathers to transmit citizenship, with very few exceptions. Tens of thousands of Syrian fathers are dead, missing, or fighting in the civil war. In their absence, children born in exile since the war began, and even some of those born in Syria, may not be able to assert their Syrian citizenship if and when they are able to return home.
In Depth Reports
  • 10/22/2008
    Statelessness, or the lack of effective nationality, impacts the daily lives of some 11-12 million people around the world. Perhaps those who suffer most are stateless infants, children and youth. Though born and raised in their parents’ country of habitual residence, they lack formal recognition of their existence.
  • 02/13/2006
    Syria is at a critical crossroads, faced with a timely opportunity to maintain stability and security in the country by realizing the nationality and its concomitant rights of all residents. In particular, an estimated 300,000 stateless Kurds live within the country’s borders, but are in a unique situation in relation to the larger Kurdish population due to a 1962 census that led to their denationalization.
RI has consistently recommended more support for services that assist Syrian refugees outside of camps. Even as many large aid agencies and non-governmental organizations established programming in camps, RI repeatedly noted the lack of support for those living outside of them and requested that donors and service providers pay more attention to this enormous population. Finally, as part of its 2014 regional response plan for Syria, the UN Refugee Agency announced that it would specifically focus more of its efforts on non-camp refugees in the region.