Refugees from Syria in a UNHCR refugee camp 

Middle East The Syria crisis

The ongoing conflict in Syria, which started as a civil war in 2011, 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 several hundred thousand lives and left more than one million people injured. More than 5.6 million Syrians – among them a very large number of children – have left the country.

Particularly large numbers of Syrians have fled to Lebanon (population: some 4 million Lebanese; registered Syrian refugees: 855,000) and Jordan (population: 9.5 million; registered refugees: 668,000). Other countries that have taken in refugees are Turkey (3.688 million refugees), Iraq (246,000 refugees) and Egypt (133,000 refugees). (Current figures as at July 2021)

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


German assistance for people affected by the conflict

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

Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, the German Development Ministry (BMZ) has provided significant assistance to the people affected by the conflict, mainly through activities in four neighbouring countries – Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. The BMZ is 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.

Two children carry a family hygiene package from UNICEF to their tent in Fafin camp near Aleppo.

Two children carry a family hygiene package from UNICEF to their tent in Fafin camp near Aleppo.

Two children carry a family hygiene package from UNICEF to their tent in Fafin camp near Aleppo.

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 population of the host communities.

The German government is one of the largest bilateral donors; the funds it provides for efforts to tackle the crisis are channelled through the Federal Foreign Office and the BMZ. Between 2012 and 2021, around 8.5 billion euros in funding have come from the BMZ's budget.

International donor conferences to help Syria during the crisis

Development Minister Müller with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai at the conference "Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region" 2016 in London

Development Minister Müller with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai at the conference "Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region" 2016 in London

Development Minister Müller with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai at the conference Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region 2016 in London

30 March 2021 saw the fifth Brussels donor conference entitled Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region (External link) take place as a virtual event. With earlier conferences held in Kuwait between 2013 and 2015, in London in 2016 and in Brussels since 2017, this was the ninth donor conference to address the crisis in Syria. The Syria conference was again 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. This year, too, the 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. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, the need for support with regard to water and sanitation, as well as hygiene, has increased. People in the region are also to continue to receive support geared to legal protection, health and shelter.

According to calculations by the United Nations, meeting these needs in 2021 will require funding of 3.6 billion US dollars for Syria, and of 4.9 billion US dollars for the neighbouring countries. At the fifth Syria Conference on 30 March this year, donors committed a total amount of more than 5.3 billion euros. This year alone, Germany is contributing 1.73 billion euros – the largest amount provided by a single nation state. Of this amount, 1.07 billion euros has come out of the BMZ budget. In the period between 2017 and 2020, Germany was the second largest donor, and 2020 saw the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) pledging 1.352 billion euros in funding.

Examples of German activities in the region

See also

The BMZ's crisis response activities focus on development measures that will strengthen the resilience of people and local structures affected by the conflict in the medium and long term. Measures being implemented in Lebanon by the Federal Foreign Office and the BMZ in collaboration with each other are helping to improve the health situation of 59,400 Syrian refugees and 16,900 vulnerable Lebanese people. Beside the humanitarian aid being provided, transitional development assistance is complementing treatment for reproductive health while strengthening the capacities and quality of six health centres in Lebanon.

In addition to providing transitional development assistance, 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, the BMZ has made a total of nearly 357 million euros available to UNICEF since 2014 for activities being carried out in Lebanon under the Reaching All Children with Education (RACE) programme. RACE is part of the international No Lost Generation initiative. As a result of the substantial support provided by the BMZ, more than 123,000 Lebanese and Syrian children in Lebanon were able to go to school in the 2019/2020 school year alone – an important contribution towards ensuring these children's social inclusion and giving them a better future.

In Jordan, the BMZ's development activities have helped to improve access to safe drinking water for more than 1.8 million people – 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 Iraq, where in 2020 nine medical centres were refurbished and re-equipped, and 22,000 people were given psycho-social support.

In Turkey, the BMZ supports the work of international and local social workers, whose work helps to foster trust and peaceful coexistence between Syrian refugees and the local Turkish population. They do this by working with and providing training for young people from both the Turkish and the Syrian communities who are active in their communities and organising social, cultural and sporting activities for children and youngsters.

With these measures the BMZ has offered support to more than 189,100 refugees, internally displaced persons, returnees and local people in host communities. 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, support also goes to projects being implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and German non-governmental organisations.

The BMZ provides funding 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, so that they are able to improve their living conditions themselves. Simultaneously, the programme supports the construction of urgently needed infrastructure, such as buildings and roads.

In 2020, it created some 88,000 jobs. 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 prospects of about 470,000 people. In addition, the programme has also given around 473,000 children the opportunity to go to school.