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Shattered lives

Syria Crisis Watch

Across Syria, the International Rescue Committee provides lifesaving support to close to 1 million people—half of them are children—who are struggling to survive a violent war now in its ninth year.

IRC data reveals staggering child mortality in Al Hol camp

  • The IRC is extremely concerned about a sharp rise in the number of deaths of children in Al Hol camp in northeastern Syria. Nearly 70,000 people who lived under ISIS reside in Al Hol, most of them women and children.

  • The main causes of death among children are severe malnutrition, diarrhea and pneumonia. Most of the deaths have occurred in an area of the camp called the Annex where there are limited health services.

  • "All those in Al Hol camp are entitled to humanitarian assistance without discrimination, and lifesaving services need to be urgently scaled up—particularly for foreign nationals in the camp,” said the IRC's Misty Buswell.

  • The number of children under five dying has more than doubled since March and the IRC fears mortality rates will continue to rise in the camp as cold winter weather approaches.

Read our latest statement
Country facts
  • Population: 18.4 million
  • People displaced by crisis: 11.9 million
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 155 of 188
IRC response
  • Started work in Syria: 2012
  • People assisted: 995,000 in 2018

Syria crisis briefing

Since 2011, the war in Syria has left 12 million people in need of aid, including 5 million with acute needs. The United Nations estimates that more than 400,000 people have died, while other sources place the death toll at over 500,000. The vast majority of Syrians live in poverty. Through programs coordinated by our teams based in Iraq and Jordan, the IRC provides emergency and long-term services to displaced families and Syrians who have stayed in their homes.

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What caused the current crisis in Syria?

Since 2011, Syrian society has been torn apart by brutal violence, creating the largest humanitarian crisis of the 21st century. In 2018, over 4,000 people were forced to leave their homes each day due to fighting. Millions have fled to neighboring countries. At the peak of hostilities, many Syrians chose to risk their lives in search of safety and opportunity in Europe.

6.2 million people are still displaced inside Syria and 11.7 million need emergency assistance. Meanwhile, 10.2 million Syrians live in areas that are affected by fighting or explosive hazards. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to a range of safety issues including sexual violence, early marriage, child labor, and physical and mental trauma.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Syria?

Since 2011, fighting in Syria has led to the destruction of homes, schools and hospitals— including IRC-supported facilities—and devastated life-sustaining civilian infrastructure and services including water, sanitation and electricity systems.

A displaced woman walks through rubble in northeast Syria after visiting an IRC mobile health clinic. Photo: IRC

6.2 million people are still displaced inside Syria and 11.7 million need emergency assistance. Meanwhile, 10.2 million Syrians live in areas that are affected by fighting or explosive hazards. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to a range of safety issues including sexual violence, early marriage, child labor, and physical and mental trauma.

How does the IRC help in Syria?

The IRC’s mission is to help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future.

We first began assisting Syrians in 2012, providing emergency relief and humanitarian aid to those uprooted by war. In 2018, the IRC helped close to 1 million Syrians inside their country.

This included 853,000 people treated in IRC-supported clinics and mobile health teams and helping over 22,000 women and girls—many survivors of assault and abuse—find safety and support. The IRC also helped close to 30,000 Syrians get vital information, support and documents to move more freely and access services, as well as provided some 500,000 people in Syria with job training, cash or vouchers to help them buy food and other essential items for their families.

Eight-month-old Zaid was admitted to a children's clinic with severe bronchitis. The clinic is run by the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) with support from the IRC in Idlib province. Photo: IRC

Our programs are led by cross-border teams in Iraq and Jordan—each providing support that is tailored to the communities they serve. As violence, displacement, and poverty wrack Syria, the IRC is escalating our response by:

  • partnering with local and diaspora groups to ensure the uninterrupted flow of medicines, supplies, and equipment;
  • providing emergency cash assistance to help displaced families meet their immediate needs;
  • operating clinics and mobile teams to provide lifesaving trauma services, primary and reproductive care, dialysis and essential drugs; 
  • integrating mental health services into our primary care work;
  • running classes, counseling and protection services for thousands of children in camps and communities;
  • creating safe spaces for women and girls that offer services for survivors of violence, as well as counseling and skills training;
  • supporting early childhood development to reverse the harmful effects of early stress and trauma caused by crisis and displacement;
  • building households’ economic stability with job training, apprenticeships, and small business support.
Syrian children in Idlib, Syria, enjoy a day of fun and games at a safe space run by the IRC. The centre offers children the chance to learn, develop new skills and be creative. Photo: Abdullah Hammam/IRC

Here's a closer look at our work:

Northwest Syria

Nearly half of Idlib’s population has been displaced by the war in Syria and the IRC has been providing primary health care and cash support to vulnerable Syrians in the province. We also run safe spaces where children can access recreational and learning activities that promote psychosocial support, and have recently handed out over 20,000 educational and fun-packed backpacks to help children cope better with the ordeal of living in war-torn Syria.

Northeast Syria

The IRC is providing food, healthcare and other emergency services to people who were displaced by fighting to retake the cities of Deir ez Zour, Raqqa and Baghuz from ISIS.

We are the largest provider of health care in northeast Syria, reaching 497,000 Syrians as well as several thousand Iraqi refugees in camps, towns and rural communities. The IRC is the only international agency in this area providing mental health services and emotional support across all medical facilities.  

North of Raqqa city, the IRC provide medical support through mobile health clinics and identify and support children separated from their families as well as survivors of sexual violence.

What still needs to be done?

More than half of all Syrians are displaced from their homes, which makes Syria is the world's largest displacement crisis. As the conflict continues and available resources inside Syria dry up, the IRC’s work is more critical than ever.  We pledge to put the needs of those most affected by the crisis at the forefront of our efforts and to achieve measurable improvements in safety, health, and economic well-being.

We will continue to support uprooted Syrians and host communities, with a particular focus on women and children. The IRC is committed to reaching the most vulnerable and hard-to-access areas throughout the country.

IRC teams and partners currently reach over 1.2 million people inside Syria and in neighboring countries—Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon—with lifesaving support. In the next several years, we’ll focus on the following areas:


People should be safe in their homes and communities, and receive support when they experience harm. Women and children, in particular, should be safe in their schools, homes and workplaces.

As a global leader in safety, the IRC will continue to identify safety risks in camps and rural and urban communities. We help survivors of abuse access safe spaces, or take services to them via mobile health teams, and mobile outreach to women and girls. 

We monitor risks and rights violations at the home and in the communities, and help those who’ve lost civil documents safely restore papers so they can move more freely and access services. We put particular emphasis on the needs of female-headed households. 

We will also train teachers to help students who have experienced physical or emotional trauma, and support caregivers with skills to parent safely under stress and conflict. 


People should be protected from illness and receive medical treatment when they need it. The IRC will continue to work with local health care providers to grow our network of fixed and mobile health services. We will continue to save lives, ensure safe pregnancy and delivery, and provide essential primary care and chronic disease treatment in the toughest conditions  

Economic wellbeing

People should have the means to meet basic needs; they should have opportunities to earn an income and build their assets. The IRC aims to ensure that people can access food, water and shelter without falling into debt.

With a commitment to gender equality, we will also help women and girls achieve the same success as men and boys.

As in all our efforts, the IRC will strive to reach more people more quickly, increase the effectiveness of our work, listen to the concerns of those affected by our work, and hold ourselves accountable for results.

Download the IRC Syria strategy action plan to learn more about our programme priorities until 2020.

Our impact

In 2018, the IRC and our partner organisations in Syria provided:


patients with primary, reproductive and trauma care in clinics and through our mobile medical teams.

This Syrian paramedic in Eastern Ghouta risks shelling and airstrikes to save countless lives.

Read his story.

women and girls—many survivors of assault and abuse—find safety and support.

Her family scattered by war, this Syrian grandmother gets support at a women’s centre.

Read Hila's story

people with job training and cash or vouchers to help them buy food and other essential items for their families.

Economic wellbeing means people have their most basic survival needs met and have sustainable income and assets so they can prosper.

Explore our education work.

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