Refugees from Syria in a UNHCR refugee camp 

Middle East The Syria crisis

In view of the worsening human rights situation in the country, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) decided in May 2011 to suspend its official bilateral development cooperation with Syria. All German experts left Syria at the end of April 2011.

The conflict in Syria, which started as a civil war and has now been going on for seven years, has sent the region into the biggest humanitarian crisis the world has seen since the United Nations was founded. It is estimated that heavy fighting across large parts of the country has already claimed more than 400,000 lives and left 1.2 million people injured. At present, 13.1 million people in Syria are dependent on humanitarian aid. Of these, six million are children.

On top of the millions of internally displaced people, more than 5.6 million people have fled to neighbouring countries. The countries most affected are Lebanon (population: some 4 million Lebanese; registered Syrian refugees: 866,000) and Jordan (population: 9.5 million; registered refugees: 665,000). Other countries that have taken in refugees are Turkey (about 3.66 million refugees), Iraq (244,000 refugees) and Egypt (131,000 refugees) (figures as at March 2021).

An overview of Syrian refugees in the region compiled by the United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR can be found here (External link).

German assistance for people affected by the conflict

Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, the German Development Ministry has provided significant assistance to the people affected by the conflict, mainly through activities in four neighbouring countries – Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. The BMZis coordinating this assistance closely with the Federal Foreign Office. Germany's Federal Foreign Office is responsible for humanitarian aid; the BMZ is in charge of transitional development assistance, which is geared more to the medium to long term. This coordination is intended to ensure that relief efforts and transitional development activities are linked.

The main purpose of the large-scale support provided by the BMZ is to go beyond humanitarian aid and give people prospects of a better future and enable them to provide for themselves in the long term. This is expressed in a three-pronged approach, which guides most of the BMZ's activities: education for children, vocational training for young people, jobs for adults. In addition to providing assistance to Syrian refugees, the BMZ also assists host communities in neighbouring countries, as they bear the brunt of the refugee influx. This helps the entire region and promotes social cohesion between the Syrian refugees and the inhabitants of the host communities.

Between 2012 and 2017, the German government provided funding worth about 5.4 billion euros in total in response to the crisis, making Germany one of the largest bilateral donors. Of this sum, 3.28 billion euros came out of the BMZ budget.

Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller talking to refugees from Syria in a UNHCR refugee camp

Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller talking to refugees from Syria in a UNHCR refugee camp

Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller talking to refugees from Syria in a UNHCR refugee camp

International donor conferences to help Syria during the crisis

On 24 and 25 April 2018, an international donor conference entitled 'Supporting Syria and the Region' was held in Brussels. With earlier conferences held in Kuwait in 2013, 2014 and 2015, in London in 2016 and in Brussels in 2017, this was the sixth donor conference to address the crisis in Syria. The Syria conference was co-hosted by the European Union and the United Nations. As in previous years, the German government had a major part to play in the preparation and organisation of the conference.

The earlier Syria conferences have already highlighted the importance of the United Nations-led political process for resolving the Syrian crisis. The 2018 conference served to coordinate a coherent and needs-oriented approach to the refugee crisis at international level. The major task in the short term will be to bring about tangible improvements in the living conditions of the refugees and the people of the host countries. A long-term goal of the conference will be to reduce the drivers of displacement and make it a viable option for people to stay within the region.

It is hoped that the international funding will improve living conditions for people within Syria and in its neighbouring countries. The international community has identified education and employment, as well as food security and the meeting of basic needs, as the areas most in need of addressing. People in Syria are also to receive further support geared to legal protection, health and hygiene, water supplies and shelter.

According to calculations by the UN, meeting these needs will require funding of 3.5 billion US dollars for Syria in 2018, and of 4.4 billion US dollars for the neighbouring countries in 2018 and 2019. Last year alone, Germany contributed 1.9 billion euros – the largest amount provided by a single nation state. Of this amount, 1.2 billion euros came out of the BMZ budget. The German government will provide one billion euros in 2018 and in subsequent years. The money will go to concrete aid for people in need in Syria and the region.

Examples of German activities in the region

Girls at a school in a refugee camp for Syrian refugees on the Turkish-Syrian border near Nizip.

Girls at a school in a refugee camp for Syrian refugees on the Turkish-Syrian border near Nizip.

Girls at a school in a refugee camp for Syrian refugees on the Turkish-Syrian border near Nizip.

The BMZ has been supporting the work being carried out by the United Nations in Syria's neighbouring countries, especially activities focusing on education and training, employment, child protection, food security and municipal infrastructure (especially water supply and sanitation). For example, since 2014 the BMZ has made almost 200 million euros available to UNICEF for activities being carried out in Lebanon under its school programme Reaching all Children with Education (RACE). These activities are part of the international "No Lost Generation” initiative. As a result of the substantial support provided by the BMZ, more than 275,000 Lebanese and Syrian children in Lebanon will be able to go to school in the 2017/18 school year alone – an important contribution towards ensuring these children's social inclusion and giving them a better future. Further information about RACE can be found here.

In Jordan, the BMZ's development activities have helped to give around 800,000 people permanent access to safe drinking water – an achievement that will help to improve the health of both Syrians and Jordanians in the long term. The BMZ has also contributed to improving health services in northern Iraq, where, since 2016, medical treatment has already been dispensed in more than 230,000 cases across four refugee camps.

In Turkey, the BMZ is helping ten community centres to offer a wide variety of courses, training activities and advisory services. To date, more than 130,000 people (the majority of them Syrians) have taken up the services offered. The courses, training programmes, advisory services and cultural activities bring various people together, thus helping to foster peaceful coexistence. In addition, the BMZ is funding the salaries of 12,000 Syrian teachers based in Turkey, so that Syrian children can go to school there.

Within Syria, the BMZ's activities focus mainly on supporting the work of the United Nations and its emergency relief efforts there. In areas held by opposition forces, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and German non-governmental organisations are also implementing their own projects.

The funding is provided for activities in vital areas such as agriculture and food security and for basic infrastructure and services (water and sanitation, waste management, education, health). In addition, the BMZ supports efforts to strengthen civil society, build municipal structures in opposition regions, foster employment and generate income. The BMZ also helps to support political dialogue processes through its contributions to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA).

Partnership for Prospects (P4P)

As part of a cash-for-work project in Mosul, a school is being rehabilitated

As part of a cash-for-work project in Mosul, a school is being rehabilitated

As part of a cash-for-work project in Mosul, a school is being rehabilitated

In order to give refugees and locals in the region a better future, Germany has launched an employment drive called "Partnership for Prospects" (P4P). This programme consists of cash-for-work activities, creating jobs to provide quickly available income opportunities for refugees and local people in the region, thereby enabling them to improve their living conditions themselves. Simultaneously, the programme supports the construction of urgently needed infrastructure, such as buildings and roads.

By the end of 2017, more than 85,000 jobs had already been created. If the family members of those who have found jobs are also counted, then this employment programme is helping to improve the living conditions and opportunities of about 425,000 people. In addition, the programme has also given around 400,000 children the opportunity to go to school.