Syrian Arab Republic

The war in Syria has created one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time. The conflict threatens both regional stability and international peace and security, and it is a sad example of how quickly war can set a society back several decades.

Facts about Syrian Arab Republic

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Life expectancy
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GNI pr capita
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Percentage poor people (below 1.25$)
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The flag for Syrian Arab Republic

Norway is the sixth largest humanitarian donor to Syria and its neighbouring countries, and to date (July 2014) it has contributed NOK 1.3 billion in humanitarian aid since the war started in 2011. Norway has contributed to the removal of chemical weapons from Syria for destruction. Norway also participates in the efforts to find a political solution in Syria, which is the only thing that can end the sufferings of the civil population.

Three years ago, Syria was a safe harbour for refugees. Now Syria itself has triggered one of the greatest refugee crises globally since the Second World War. Since the Syrian regime brutally struck down peaceful protests in March 2011, the situation in the country has developed into a full-scale civil war, with an ever more motley gang of actors. The United Nations estimates that more than 150,000 people have lost their lives in the conflict to date.

United Nations' key figures on the humanitarian crisis as at June 2014:

  • 10.8 million Syrians need humanitarian aid. Roughly half of these are children.
  • 6.5 million people are displaced in their own country.
  • More than 2.8 million people are registered as refugees in Syria's neighbouring countries.

The ground warfare situation is complex and constantly changing. The Syrian regime, supported by the Hizbollah militia, controls central sections of the country from Damascus to the Mediterranean coast, while several armed opposition groups dominate in the north and east. These groups differ greatly, ranging from moderate opposition groups to extreme groups associated with al-Qaida.

Several of these actors receive support from countries and forces that are struggling for strategic influence. Their battle for power and influence in the regions is being fought on Syrian territory. This makes the situation extremely complicated.

The civil population is in the middle of the firing line. The regime consistently obstructs the delivery of medical equipment to the rebel-controlled areas. Several of the parties in the conflict perform targeted attacks against humanitarian relief workers, hospitals and other civil infrastructure.

Will open up the humanitarian space

The war in Syria is being waged with brutality and without respect for humanitarian rights and principles. The warring parties have far to go before they have given the civil population the protection and rights they are entitled to pursuant to international humanitarian law. There are still daily attacks aimed at the civil population, and in large areas of Syria, those who are affected do not have access to the necessary humanitarian aid. The overarching goal of Norway's humanitarian policy is to contribute to opening up the humanitarian space in Syria in order to reach the affected civil population throughout the entire country.

A resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council in February 2014 was supposed to ensure access to help for Syrian civilians, but this has not resulted in any major changes on the ground. Many people are in besieged areas where starvation is used as a weapon in the war, and millions of Syrian civilians are cut off from access to necessary help.
The children are paying the highest price for the war in Syria. The civil war results in a lack of food and vaccines, and it robs many children of the opportunity to go to school.

The war in Syria is creating unrest throughout the entire region. The flow of refugees out of Syria has imposed a large burden on neighbouring countries and places a great deal of pressure on the host countries' capacity to deliver basic services, such as education, health, water and sanitary facilities, both for their own populations and for the refugees. Norway is attempting to support the neighbouring countries, so that they can continue to keep their borders open to those who manage to escape from Syria. Norway has particularly given priority to support for Lebanon, which has accepted the greatest number of Syrian refugees. Today every fourth person living in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee.

Humanitarian efforts

In 2014, Norway has granted NOK 460 million to the victims of the conflict in Syria. Around half of this contribution will go to humanitarian initiatives inside Syria. The other half will go to Syrian refugees in the neighbouring countries. Norway uses a broad group of humanitarian partners to deliver emergency aid to Syria and to Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. We support the United Nations, the International Red Cross and voluntary organisations that work inside Syria. In several areas there are major problems with humanitarian access, especially in the opposition-controlled areas where the United Nations only has limited access. Voluntary organisations that can work across national borders are used here. Norway gives priority to food supplies, shelter, health, education, water and sanitary facilities in its humanitarian efforts.

The government has expressed that Norway will continue to increase aid to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria going forward.

Chemical weapons

A key part of the mission to destroy Syria's chemical weapons programme has consisted of transporting chemical weapons and other substances out of Syria. Based on UN Security Council Resolution 2118 on the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons, Norway and Denmark have contributed to transporting chemical weapons out of Syria for destruction through participation in the OPCW and the UN joint mission. Since December 2013, Norway has contributed a civil cargo vessel and a military escort vessel, as well as a military support element on board the cargo vessel the MV Taiko.

The OPCW reported on 23 June 2014 that the transport of chemical weapons out of Syria had been completed. Never before had a country's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction been removed in a corresponding manner. By participating in the operation, Norway has contributed to preventing the weapons being used again against Syria's civil population or falling into the wrong hands. In December 2013, Norway also made a contribution of NOK 18.3 million to the OPCW's destruction fund.

Education crisis

The conflict in Syria has driven millions of children from their normal everyday activities. As many as 1.3 million Syrian children are currently refugees in neighbouring countries. Even more are living displaced inside Syria, where fighting and destruction have demolished large parts of the national education opportunities. UNICEF estimates that a total of 2,8 million children in Syria are unable to attend school. According to the Ministry of Education in Syria, 35 per cent fewer Syrian children and youth attend school now, compared with before the war. Between the first and twelfth year, 1.9 million students dropped out or were never registered for the 2012/2013 school year.

Norway has supported education work in Syria through, for example, Save the Children, UNICEF and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Some results:

  • Save the Children rehabilitated 39 educational institutions in northern Syria.
  • Nearly 800 volunteers were recruited, including 650 teachers and 75 headmasters.
  • Approximately 260 teachers received training in how they should teach, provide psychosocial support and instruct the students about health and hygiene in demanding and more informal surroundings. The teachers were also taught how the children could best be protected against exploitation and molestation. In addition, emphasis was placed on the use of positive, non-violent discipline in the schools.
  • Desks, chairs and blackboards are in place now, school materials were prepared and educational aids were purchased and distributed.
  • Water and sanitary facilities for boys and girls in accordance with international standards for education in crises were put in place at eight educational institutions.
  • After the rehabilitation of educational institutions and capacity building of teachers and staff in schools, Save the Children initiated an extensive "back to school" campaign. By the end of 2013, Save the Children had reached around 14,000 children of primary school age through this project.

The education response has been demanding. This is affected at times by a complex and constantly changing situation on the ground. Access to qualified and motivated Syrian manpower on both sides of the border has been decisive. Experienced relief workers, continuous monitoring of the security situation and efficient use of calmer periods and opportunities have contributed to the delays in implementation being fewer and shorter than feared.

Education activities are also an important part of the Norwegian Refugee Council's work in both Syria and the neighbouring countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. The objective is to ensure education in a safe environment for as many children as possible. Activities include arrangements so that Syrian children can go to school in the host countries, additional lessons, training of teachers in crisis management, material support of the students and teachers, rehabilitation of schools and other initiatives.

The work is performed by the staff of the Norwegian Refugee Council in cooperation with a network of partners that include the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF, Save the Children, other international organisations and local actors. In Syria's neighbouring countries, the initiatives are coordinated with the national authorities. In 2013, the aid provided by the Norwegian Refugee Council reached 40,000 Syrian children and young people in the region, almost half of these were inside Syria.

Together with Norway, for example, UNICEF ensured that 79,000 children, who would otherwise probably have dropped out of school due to the conflict in Syria, have been able to continue their education without interruption. As many as 47,000 children have received psychosocial support. Because Norway contributed 6 per cent of the funding, it can be maintained that almost 5000 Syrian children were able to continue their education and nearly 3000 received psychosocial follow-up due to Norwegian support.

Published 28.08.2014
Last updated 16.02.2015