In its twelfth year of civil war, more than 90% of Syria is living in poverty. Food insecurity affects a record 2 out of 3 people. And every other child is missing school, which makes them more vulnerable to child labor, forced marriage, and recruitment into armed groups.
The Syrian Civil War has threatened to numb us all globally to the pain of our fellow humans, as we’ve witnessed brutality that goes beyond the norms of anything we’ve ever seen before. Chemical gas attacks, beheadings, and the regular bombardment of hospitals and children have come to define the way many around the world see and know Syria and its people.
Millions have fled the country. But some 18M still call Syria home, and a decade of war have thrown the Syrian people into a hole that they will need help to climb out from. The Syrian Civil War has been an internationalized war since the beginning. A full resolution will likely not happen without a rebalancing of the international response. In the absence of a full scale resolution, averting the next crisis by fortifying peace inside the country is our next big collective challenge.
After more than a decade and Syria largely out of the headlines, one could be forgiven for thinking that things are mostly “over” and have worked themselves out. But nothing could be further from the truth. The February 6 earthquake, the war in Ukraine, the explosion at the Port of Beirut, and COVID19 have caused a 2-3X increase of people in acute need in 2023.
Here are a few things we’re currently watching and working on.
Earthquake Displaces Thousands
Syria’s war-torn city of Aleppo bore the brunt of a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake in the early morning hours of February 6, 2023. Described as a “crisis within a crisis within a crisis”, Aleppo was already in critical condition after more than a decade of civil war. Broken infrastructure, destroyed buildings, and dire winter conditions that were already a struggle for the city’s residents were compounded by the tragedy. So far, more than 1,400 people have been reported dead. Families displaced from their homes are gathering in makeshift shelters around the city. Aid organizations stretched beyond capacity prior to the earthquake have very limited response capacity for this new crisis.
Turkish Military in Syria
The Turkish military’s Operation Euphrates Shield in August 2016, in which Turkey entered into Syria to drive out both ISIS and PKK (Kurdish) militants, led to what has become a nearly six year occupation of Syria. Over these years, Turkey has forcibly taken more and more land, driven out Kurds and other ethnic minorities, and been accused of facilitating the Arabization of northern Syria.
In May 2022, Turkey’s President Erdoğan re-upped his rhetoric about a coming offensive to complete their 30-kilometer deep “safe zone” project in northern Syria, which would aim to forcibly displaced millions of Kurds and minorities in a brazen act of ethnic cleansing. Syrian Armed Forces, Russian Armed Forces, Iranian-backed militia, and the Syrian Defense Forces (an opposition group) are all reportedly fortifying their positions across the north in preparation for another Turkish offensive.
In addition to the immediate humanitarian impact of additional Turkish aggression, the conflict could give ISIS and its affiliates the means to recapture lost territory and increase its asymmetric attacks as resources that have been keeping ISIS in check are reallocated elsewhere.
HUMANITE founder Michel Tannous was on the scene leading humanitarian operations inside the Turkish conflict zone in response to their October 2019 offensive. We have already seen firsthand the level of fear and sheer need that will result for those who are displaced.
HUMANITE staff and fellows are in regular communication with communities across northern Syria and has put logistical preparations in place to contribute to food, shelter, medical, and other needs as they arise, in coordination with local authorities and humanitarian cluster groups.
US/Coalition Attacks Against ISIS
The US continues drone strikes targeting high-level leaders of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and jihadist affiliates in the northwestern province of Idlib.
Now in the twelfth year of war, everyday Syrians have had to experience and witness the destruction of their country, have often lived in acute fear of both the state security apparatus and any number of rebel factions, and have seen their currency, economy, and overall prospects blown to bits like so many cities.
Today, more than 90% of the country are living below the poverty line. The explosion at the Port of Beirut in 2020 and the war in Ukraine in 2022 have both played a compounding role in hampering Syria’s imports, especially wheat. In June, the UN announced efforts to rehabilitate the only yeast factory in the country, in a move that is expected to increase total yeast production by 2-4X and help keep more than 12M Syrians who rely on public bakeries alive.
The northwest province of Idlib has become the last major hold-out of active rebels fighting against the government of Bashar al-Assad. But it is also home to a huge number of displaced people from around the country who have sought refuge there from the government as its forces have retaken control over nearly every other major territory.
This makes Idlib simultaneously the capital of the civil war, the global capital of ISIS and its ilk, and a population center of civilians and refugees who are indiscriminately being attacked by Syrian shelling and Russian airstrikes.
Crossline vs. Cross-border Aid
Today, in northwest Syria alone, 1.7M people are still living displaced across 1,414 camps. More than 2M people require aid that many say can only be provided to them through the cross-border agreement that was recently extended by the UN Security Council for another six-month term.
China and Russia continue to maintain that delivering aid through Damascus to the rest of the country (crossline) is not only possible, but preferable and required for respecting Syria’s sovereignty. The vast majority of the aid community fears that the elimination of cross-border options would leave millions of people in need, especially across the north, and cause a tremendous loss of aid due to corruption. At the intersection of these two differing views and values, Russia and China refuse to sign on to any proposal that would extend the cross-border operations beyond six months.
The lack of any kind of twelve-month (or greater) guarantee that cross-border aid will remain open, prevents many governments, the UN, and large aid organizations from doing all they could otherwise do to support people in need.
The Syrian uprising started in March 2011, when people took to the streets of Daraa to protest the government’s harsh treatment of political prisoners. In response, troops fired on protesters, killing several civilians and sparking nationwide protests demanding Assad’s resignation.
In March 2012, Assad began using air force jets and helicopters against targets throughout Syria; this marked the beginning of a full-scale civil war between government forces and rebels who opposed Assad's brutal crackdown on dissenters.
Over time, various rebel groups emerged to fight Assad's regime, as well as each other. These factions have included: the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (formerly Free Syrian Army), an anti-regime collective founded by defecting military officers; the Islamist factions (ISIS, al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, etc); and the Syrian Democratic Forces (comprising several ethnic militia in the de facto autonomous region of the northeast).
Russia’s entry into the war on behalf of the Syrian government in 2015 turned the tide, and today, Idlib is now the only remaining largely opposition-held province.
HUMANITE in Syria
The HUMANITE founding team has been actively responding in Syria since 2016 under the leadership of Michel Tannous. From leading local staff, to working with local partners and community leaders, our team has been a part of funding and deploying millions of dollars of support to the Syrian people for other organizations in the form of hot kitchens, meals on wheels, food packs, shelter, home rebuilds, neighborhood electricity supply, medical care, and job creation.
Today, HUMANITE is focused on an earthquake relief response in Aleppo, distributing food and shelter items, along with partners, to thousands displaced and in need.
But helping everyday people in Syria gain access to the food, medicine, and work they need to survive, is something HUMANITE can only accomplish with you.
Become a member of HUMANITE (or make a one-time donation) today to help stop the spread of violence and fortify local peace across Syria, before it’s too late.