The suffering worsens every day
Syria represents “a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history… The worst humanitarian crisis since Rwanda.” — UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres
How it began
The Syrian crisis began in March, 2011 as part of the wider regional protest movement known as the Arab Spring. Pro-democracy protests erupted after the arrest and torture of a group of teenagers who had painted revolutionary graffiti on their school’s walls in the southern city of Deraa; they included a 13-year-old boy called Hamza Al Khattib, who was detained, along with several others, for interrogation by the security forces. A month later, Hamza’s body was returned to his parents, showing evidence of extreme torture — including severe burns to his feet, face, elbow and knees; bullet wounds through both arms; a broken neck; and wounds resulting from electric-shock devices and being whipped with cables. When shocked Deraa residents protested against the arrest and treatment of the children, security forces opened fire on them, killing four. The next day, the authorities shot at mourners at the victims’ funerals, killing another person. People then began demanding the overthrow of President Bashar Al-Assad across the country, and as the crisis unfolded over the ensuing year, an armed rebellion began.
The resulting crisis has led to untold and worsening suffering. A staggering 8,000 people flee Syria every day: according to the UNHCR, more Syrians are now displaced than any other nationality (30% within Syria and a further 11% into other countries). One in 5 Syrians doesn’t have enough food to survive, and half need humanitarian aid. In October 2013, the UN reported that of the 9.3 million people in need of assistance inside Syria, over a third are beyond the reach of aid agencies and many have not been reached for nearly a year.
126,000 conflict-related deaths; 11,500 were children
According to Reuters (December 2013), 125,835 people have been killed since the conflict began. Oxford Research Group says that 11,420 were children; the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that 4,269 were women (see our fast facts page). Major causes of death include blast injuries and gunshot wounds, chemical attacks, collapsing buildings, disease and, now, starvation.
Over 6.5 million people displaced within Syria
Almost one in 3 Syrians have fled their homes but remain within the country’s borders. These internally displaced persons (IDPs) are the most vulnerable among all Syrians, and are in the most acute need. Often they have fled with nothing but the clothes they stand up in. They remain at risk of conflict-related injury and death, imprisonment, disease, starvation, and even hypothermia in winter.
- Some live in makeshift homes without water, sanitation, or heating in winter
- Some share homes with many other people (perhaps 10 times more than the home was designed for)
- Some live in refugee camps within Syria, where conditions can be terrible
- Tens of thousands of protesters have been imprisoned, and there are reports of widespread torture in state prisons.
Over 2 million displaced outside Syria
Desperate Syrians are fleeing into Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, placing an intolerable burden on these neighbouring states; one in 4 people in Lebanon is now a Syrian refugee, and in the Mafraq area of Jordan, there are 30% more Syrians than Jordanians.
While it took 2 years for refugee numbers to hit a million, that number had doubled within 6 months. Half of all Syrian refugees are children, with around 75% aged under 11. Often, women and children are permitted to leave, but their men are forced to remain behind, devastating families further. According to the UNHCR, international aid agencies only have 47% of the funds they need to meet basic refugee needs. We’re one of the few agencies able to work inside Syria, and we’re doing all we can to alleviate suffering and to speak for those who live in daily fear.
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