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Shattered lives

Syria Crisis Watch

Across Syria, the International Rescue Committee provides lifesaving support to over 1 million people every year—almost half of them children—who are struggling to survive a brutal war now in its eighth year.

Attacks averted in Idlib

  • Hundreds of thousands of people could flee their homes and lose access to vital aid and health care if military offensives in northeast Syria begin, warns the IRC.

  • The IRC is one of the largest providers of health care in northeast Syria, which is home to 2 million people, many of whom have been displaced by conflict multiple times.

  • “Families are struggling to get their lives back on track and many are still reliant on vital aid including the IRC’s medical care, which is now at risk of severe disruption,” said the IRC’s Middle East regional director Mark Schnellbaecher.

  • The IRC calls on Turkey and the United States to do all that is possible to defuse tensions before we see large scale displacement and suffering. Our mobile health teams are on standby to reach people displaced by any new military offensive.

Read our latest statement
Country facts
  • Population: 22.8 million
  • People displaced by crisis: 12.3 million
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 134 of 188
IRC response
  • Started work in Syria: 2012
  • People assisted: over 1 million

Syria crisis briefing

Since 2011, the war in Syria has taken well over 400,000 lives and left 13.1 million people in need of aid, including 5.6 million with acute needs. Over two-thirds of Syrians live in extreme 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 2017 nearly 10,000 people are forced to leave their homes each day due to fighting. Millions have fled to neighbouring countries. As conditions worsen, many Syrians choose to risk their lives in search of safety and opportunity in Europe.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Syria?

Inside Syria, ongoing fighting has killed civilians and decimated infrastructure and economic markets. Attacks on homes, schools and hospitals—including IRC-supported facilities—continue.

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

Over 6.1 million people are displaced inside Syria and 13.1 million need emergency assistance. Meanwhile, some 3 million Syrians live in areas that are difficult or impossible for aid workers to reach, including over 400,000 in besieged areas declared by the United Nations. Four years of besiegement and the blocking of aid in Eastern Ghouta, the suburbs of Damascus, have not only contributed to a medical emergency but also a food crisis that has left thousands of children dangerously malnourished.

Women and children are particularly vulnerable to a range of safety issues including sexual violence, 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 2016, over 1,000 IRC workers helped more than 1 million Syrians inside their country. This included 971,000 people treated in around 50 IRC supported clinics and mobile health teams, helping 24,000 women and girls–many survivors of assault and abuse–find safety and support, and providing an education and support to over 10,000 children and parents. The IRC also supported 13,500 Syrians to get vital documents to move more freely and access services, as well as provided thousands of Syrians with job training and cash or vouchers to help them buy food and other essential items for their families.   

Our programmes are led by cross-border teams in Iraq, Turkey and Jordan—each providing support that is tailored to the communities they serve. As violence continues to escalate in the region, the IRC is focusing our efforts 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, counselling 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 counselling and skills training;
  • building households’ economic stability with job training, apprenticeships, and small business support.

Here's a closer look at our work:

Northwestern 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. Most recently the IRC has been providing medical care and cash support to people who fled fighting to the northeast of Idlib to help them pay for food and rent.

Northeastern Syria

The IRC is providing food, healthcare and other emergency services to people who have been displaced by fighting to retake the cities of Deir el Zour and Raqqa from ISIS. North of Raqqa city, the IRC provide medical support through three mobile health clinics and identify and support children separated from their families as well as survivors of sexual violence.

Southern Syria

The IRC provides healthcare across southern Syria, supporting hospitals and clinics staffed with nurses, midwives, paramedics and doctors. These health facilities care for patients with chronic conditions, communicable diseases and reproductive health issues. We also cover salaries and basic operating costs, medicines and medical supplies at the five partner-run medical facilities we support in Eastern Ghouta, a besieged suburb of the capital Damascus.


What still needs to be done?

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. Here’s a closer look at some of the work we will be doing over the next few years to achieve our goals.

We will continue to support uprooted Syrians and host communities, with a particular focus on women and children. The IRC is also committed to reaching the most vulnerable and hard-to-access areas throughout the country. We will continue to expand our programmes based on where there is the greatest need.

IRC teams and partners currently reach 1.3 million people in Syria and neighbouring countries 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 healthcare 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 2015, the IRC and our partner organisations in Syria provided:

1.4 Million

displaced people with emergency and humanitarian aid.

IRC staff and volunteers are providing medical care, cash assistance, education and vital counseling and support for survivors of violence.

Explore our work on safety.

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

In our health clinics, we are delivering primary and reproductive health care, trauma services and dialysis to thousands of people.

Explore our health work.

children and youth with safe classrooms and education opportunities

We have opened schools in several displacement camps in Idleb, Syria where we provide specialised services for disabled children.

Explore our education work.

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