Our work overseas

The Syrian War in 10 Pictures

10 years on the situation for many children and families remains precarious, with nearly 90 per cent of children in need of humanitarian assistance, a 20 per cent increase in the past year alone.

2012

In January and February 2012 in Syria, children found themselves in the midst of a growing conflict between rebel and government forces. By mid-March, violence had claimed the lives of more than 500 children and 244 women. By late March, the year-long conflict had killed 9,000 people and wounded many others. An estimated 1.7 million people have been affected by the violence, which has extended into at least half of the country’s 14 governorates. Education and health services have also been disrupted. Some 150,000–200,000 people have been internally displaced. An estimated 30,000 refugees – half of them children – have fled to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. While most have registered with UNHCR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), others have not, fearing possible retaliation against them or family members remaining in Syria.

Many refugees in Lebanon and Jordan are being hosted by local families, who also require assistance. UNICEF is participating in an inter-agency assessment of needs in conflict-affected parts of Syria and has requested US$7.4 million to – with governments, UNHCR and local and international NGOs – addressing the needs of an anticipated 40,000 refugee children, including those staying with host families, in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, over the next six months. Support includes psychosocial assistance for children traumatized by the conflict to which they have been subjected or borne witness.

© UNICEF/UNI122711/Romenzi
© UNICEF/UNI122711/Romenzi

In late January, a boy receives first aid after being shot in the foot by a sniper, in a town affected by the conflict.


© UNICEF/UNI122719/Romenzi
© UNICEF/UNI122719/Romenzi

In late February, a boy plays with a toy gun, in a province affected by the conflict. Two men - one armed and masked, and another who is checking his mobile phone - stand nearby.


By July 2012 in Syria, escalating conflict between rebel and government forces is taking an increasing toll on children and their families. Deaths, including children and women, have surpassed 17,000, and an estimated 1.5 million people inside Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance. Education and health services have been disrupted, and food insecurity is rising. Up to 1 million people have been internally displaced, with an increasing number being displaced for a second time as the conflict continues to spread. Over 120,000 refugees – half of them children – have fled to neighbouring Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. UNICEF is working with diverse governments, UNHCR, and local and international NGOs to respond to the needs of affected children, both in and outside the country. UNICEF supports initiatives in education, water, sanitation and hygiene and child protection, including psychosocial assistance for children traumatized by the conflict to which they have been subjected or borne witness.

© UNICEF/UN0394/Romenzi
© UNICEF/UN0394/Romenzi

On 14 April, children and women walk through a ploughed field during an attempt to cross the country’s border to take refuge in neighbouring Turkey. Over 37,000 Syrian refugees are receiving assistance, including from UNICEF, in 10 camps in Turkish border provinces.


2013

In early September 2013, the Syrian conflict, now well into its third year, has internally displaced some 4.25 million people. Over 2 million more – half of them children – have fled the country, seeking refuge in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Ongoing UNICEF support in Syria spans programmes in water, sanitation and hygiene, including the provision of safe drinking and domestic water for 10 million people; child protection, including psychosocial support services that have reached over 71,600 children; and nutrition and health, including 51 mobile medical teams and other fixed centres that have administered medical care to over 205,000 displaced children since the beginning of the year. During the past academic year, almost 2 million Syrian children aged 6–15 years dropped out of school because of conflict and displacement. While many have become refugees, more than half – one million children – remain out of school inside the Syrian Arab Republic. UNICEF-supported efforts in education include a Back to Learning campaign to promote school enrolment for the upcoming academic year and the distribution of learning supplies.

© UNICEF/UN01255/Diffidenti
© UNICEF/UN01255/Diffidenti

On 3 September, a young girl and a woman walk past destroyed buildings and mounds of rubble, in the city of Maarat al-Numaan, Idlib Governorate.


2015

By 28 September 2015 in Greece, 387,520 refugees and migrants had arrived by sea since the beginning of the year. More than 153,000 had arrived so far in September alone. The main nationalities include Syrians (71 per cent), Afghans (18 per cent) and Iraqis (4 per cent). The refugees and migrants who have arrived in Greece are among the 487,497 refugees and migrants who have arrived in Europe by sea between the beginning of the year and 24 September. One in every four asylum-seekers in Europe so far this year has been a child. A total of 110,000 children sought asylum between January and July – an average of over 18,000 children every month. A significant number of children are travelling unaccompanied or have become separated from their families on the move. UNICEF estimates that as many as 320,000 refugees and migrant women and children in Europe could be in need of assistance over the next six months. Beyond UNICEF’s deep involvement in responding to the crises in the Syrian Arab Republic and neighbouring countries, UNICEF is active in supporting migrant and refugee children in European countries where it has existing programmes. UNICEF’s action plan focuses on countries with the greatest number of children on the move, including scaling up interventions in Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and identifying entry points for support in Austria, Greece, Hungary and Italy; in countries of eventual destination, such as Germany; and countries where new refugee and migrant movements could appear.

© UNICEF/UNI197225/Gilbertson VII Photo
© UNICEF/UNI197225/Gilbertson VII Photo

On 28 September, life vests abandoned by refugees line the shore near the town of Mithymna, on the island of Lesbos, in the North Aegean region. In the distance, a helicopter flies over the ocean.


2016

4 March 2016 - An estimated 3.7 million Syrian children – 1 in 3 of all Syrian children - have been born since the conflict began five years ago, their lives shaped by violence, fear and displacement, according to a UNICEF report. This figure includes 306,000 children born as refugees since 2011. In total, UNICEF estimates that some 8.4 million children - more than 80 per cent of Syria’s child population - are now affected by the conflict, either inside the country or as refugees in neighbouring countries. “In Syria, violence has become commonplace, reaching homes, schools, hospitals, clinics, parks, playgrounds and places of worship,” said Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Nearly 7 million children live in poverty, making their childhood one of loss and deprivation.” According to “No Place for Children”, UNICEF verified nearly 1,500 grave violations against children in 2015. More than 60 per cent of these violations were instances of killing and maiming as a result of explosive weapons used in populated areas. More than one-third of these children were killed while in school or on their way to or from school. In Syria’s neighbouring countries, the number of refugees is nearly 10 times higher today than in 2012. Half of all refugees are children. More than 15,000 unaccompanied and separated children have crossed Syria’s borders. “Five years into the war, millions of children have grown up too fast and way ahead of their time,” Salama said. “As the war continues, children are fighting an adult war, they are continuing to drop out of school, and many are forced into labour, while girls are marrying early.” In the earlier years of the conflict, most of the children recruited by armed forces and groups were boys between 15 and 17 years old, and they were used primarily in support roles away from the front lines. However, since 2014, all parties to the conflict have recruited children at much younger ages – as young as seven – and often without parental consent. More than half of the UNICEF-verified cases of children recruited in 2015 were under 15 years old, compared with less than 20 per cent in 2014. These children are receiving military training and participating in combat, or taking up life-threatening roles at the battle-front, including carrying and maintaining weapons, manning checkpoints, and treating and evacuating the war wounded. Parties to the conflict are using children to kill, including as executioners or snipers. One of the most significant challenges to the conflict has been providing children with learning. School attendance rates inside Syria have hit rock bottom. UNICEF estimates that more than 2.1 million children inside Syria, and 700,000 in neighbouring countries, are out-of-school. In response, UNICEF and partners launched the “No Lost Generation Initiative”, which is committed to restoring learning and providing opportunities to young people. It’s not too late for Syria’s children. They continue to have hope for a life of dignity and possibility. They still cherish dreams of peace and have the chance to fulfill them,” Salama said.

The report calls on the global community to undertake five critical steps to protect a vital generation of children: End violations of children’s rights; Lift sieges and improve humanitarian access inside Syria; Secure US$ 1.4 billion in 2016 to provide children with learning opportunities; Restore children’s dignity and strengthen their psychological wellbeing; and turn funding pledges into commitments. UNICEF has received only 6 per cent of the funding required in 2016 to support Syrian children both inside the country and those living as refugees in neighbouring countries.

© UNICEF/UN013167/Al Shami
© UNICEF/UN013167/Al Shami

On 29 October 2015 in East Ghouta, rural Damascus, an internally displaced boy sits with items he will sell.

© UNICEF/UN027594/Miraj
© UNICEF/UN027594/Miraj

On 2-4 August 2016, WFP-UNICEF-UNHCR-IOM provide urgent food-relief items to 75,000 Syrians at Jordan border.


2018

In March 2018, thousands of people reportedly left Hammouriyeh in eastern Ghouta, following reports of fierce fighting that resulted in civilian deaths and injuries, as well as damage to civilian infrastructure. The actual number of people who have exited eastern Ghouta is not known, at the time of reporting busses were still arriving for more evacuees. The United Nations has not observed the evacuations, but is visiting collective shelters where some of the evacuees are arriving. This includes the Dweir collective center, where families are being assisted by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent with non-food items, hygiene kits, and ready-to-eat food. The shelter has a staffed medical point, water and electricity. Since the beginning of the first evacuations on 11 March, UNICEF and partners started its emergency response. Many of these actions are still ongoing as evacuees continue to arrive at the reception centres. At Dweir reception centre, with the local Department of Health UNICEF distributed High Energy Biscuits, Plumpy'Nut paste, Multi-micro Nutrient tablets and powder. Women and Children are being checked and screened for malnutrition and provided with proper supplies when needed. Further supplies are being sent to Dweir to continue the direct distribution to evacuees. Children under-5 are also being vaccinated with the Oral Polio Vaccine and given their routine immunizations if they had not received them. A mobile health team has also been deployed to Dweir to provide further health and nutrition services to children and mother. 5,000 brochures with awareness messages on prevention of child separation (including plastic bracelets with tags for parents to write names and contact information of a child’s parents) have been dispatched to the reception centre. Winter clothes sets are being disturbed for children under the age of 14 and UNICEF is also discussing with its partners the capacity to increasing mobile child protection and health teams in the next days and the establishment of a Child Protection unit at the reception centre.

© UNICEF/UN0185401/Sanadiki
© UNICEF/UN0185401/Sanadiki

On 15 March 2018 in Beit Sawa, eastern Ghouta, a man carrying a child in a suitcase walks towards Hamourieh where an evacuation exit from eastern Ghouta has been opened.


© UNICEF/UN0264237/Sanadiki
© UNICEF/UN0264237/Sanadiki

On 10 December 2018 in the Syrian Arab Republic, children in Douma, East Ghouta. The siege on East Ghouta, including Douma city, was lifted in April 2018 after almost seven years of besiegement and conflict. Douma is home to the largest population in East Ghouta with more than 250,000 people living amidst large scale urban destruction, wide contamination with explosive remnants of war and limited access to essential services.


2019

In late January 2019, escalating violence since December 2018 has forced thousands of people out of their homes in towns and villages in the Hajin district in eastern rural Deir-ez-Zor. Families embarked on a long and arduous journey to safety at Al-Hol camp for internally displaced people, almost 300km to the north. In the past three days alone, over 5,000 people have arrived at the camp from Hajin, bringing the number to around 23,000. Lack of security has made humanitarian access to children en route to the camp’s screening area all but impossible. The difficult journey, cold weather and long waiting periods at screening centres reportedly contributed to the death of around 25 children – including 10 infants in the past two days. Families arrive extremely exhausted after a three-day journey in harsh desert winter conditions with little food and shelter along the way. Upon arrival, once screening is complete, families receive a package of assistance to meet their immediate needs including blankets, food and water as they make their way to the camp. UNICEF is on the ground at the camp and in screening centres, providing children and families with much-needed healthcare services, including basic treatment, malnutrition screening, and referral to hospitals when needed. UNICEF has also provided 500 heaters, 7,000 winter clothing kits and 10,000 thermal blankets to children and families and is providing ongoing tracking and family reunification support to unaccompanied and separated children at the camp.

© UNICEF/UN0277722/Souleiman
© UNICEF/UN0277722/Souleiman

Children and families are huddled together with few belongings in Baghoz village in Hajin district in eastern rural Deir-ez-Zor, before they embark on a long and ardous journey to safety at Al-Hol camp, almost 300km to the north.