Middle East The Syria crisis

On 6 February 2023 two earthquakes, registering 7.8 and 7.7. on the Richter scale, hit Turkey and Syria, causing untold damage. 60,000 people lost their lives, millions were left homeless. Massive damage was also done to the physical infrastructure. In Turkey alone, over 500,000 homes were destroyed. In Hatay, one of the twelve Turkish provinces affected, up to 80 per cent of the public infrastructure has been reduced to nothing. The worst affected provinces in Syria are those bordering Hatay: Afrin, Harim and Latakia. The World Bank and the United Nations have put the damage caused in Turkey at over 100 billion euros. In Syria, the United Nations has estimated that repairing the damage will cost over 15 billion euros.

The international community came together in an act of solidarity in response to the earthquakes. A total of over 11,000 emergency and rescue workers, mainly from Turkey, were involved in the response and large quantities of aid and technical supplies were delivered to Turkey and Syria. On 20 March 2023, the EU staged a donors' conference for the victims of the earthquakes, where around seven billion euros was pledged. Some 2.6 billion euros of that was in the form of grants for Turkey and Syria. The German government pledged 238 million euros (210 million euros of humanitarian aid from the Federal Foreign Office and 28 million from the BMZ's budget), one of the highest amounts out of all the bilateral donors at the conference.

The area struck by the earthquake had already been suffering a humanitarian crisis. Between around 4.7 million and 5 million Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons were living in the affected area (some 3 million in Syria and between 1.7 million and 2 million in Turkey). The BMZ had therefore already been strongly engaged in the region before it was hit by the earthquakes.

In Syria, for example, around nine million euros was made available in 2023 for projects stretching over a number of years, supporting the health sector in the north-west of the country, for example, or boosting agricultural production. When the earthquake struck, the BMZ then made available an additional 19.5 million euros for specific measures in response to the situation, some of which are planned to run for several years. This includes measures to restore the critical infrastructure necessary to secure the basic needs of the people in the affected area. The funding will be used, for example, to repair the damage done to hospitals, schools, water pipes and bakeries.

Funding of 24.7 million euros was provided to Turkey in 2023. Our measures are aimed mainly at improving access to education (schools, technical and vocational education and training, non-formal education) and also at job creation and social cohesion. Our main partners alongside the municipalities are international organisations (UNICEF, ILO), local non-governmental organisations and business associations. A sum of 13.5 million euros from previous commitments was also reallocated in response to the earthquakes. The money was used for food aid, emergency shelters, hygiene supplies and psychosocial counselling for victims, particularly women and girls.

There are plans to commit more funds in 2024 to continue efforts in Turkey (mainly in the area affected by the earthquakes) and north-west Syria and to build back what the countries need. The World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) are also currently engaged in negotiations with Turkey on the provision of loans for the recovery process.

The armed conflict in Syria, which has been ongoing since 2011, has sent the region into one of the biggest humanitarian crises the world has seen since the United Nations was founded. It is estimated that heavy fighting across large parts of the country has claimed several hundred thousand lives and left more than one million people injured. According to the United Nations, over 16.7 million people in Syria are now dependent on humanitarian assistance, and millions of people are threatened by hunger.

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.

More than half of the Syrian population has been displaced: 5.1 million people have fled to neighbouring countries, while 6.8 million people have become internally displaced, including many children. There are no signs of an end to the crisis.

Turkey has taken in a particularly large number of people from Syria (around 3.1 million). Many Syrians have also found refuge in Lebanon and Jordan (Lebanon: around 800,000 refugees out of a population of around four million, Jordan: around 650,000 out of a population of around 11 million). The host countries also include Iraq (more than 270,000 Syrian refugees) and Egypt (around 155,000). (All figures: officially registered refugees, April 2024)

The latest 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 (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.

The main purpose of the large-scale support provided by the BMZ is to give people prospects for a better future and enable them to provide for themselves in the long term. In addition to providing assistance to Syrian refugees, the BMZ is also assisting host communities in neighbouring countries, as they are bearing 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.

Germany is one of the largest donors in the context of the Syria crisis. The BMZ invested around 10 billion euros in the region between 2012 and 2023.

Provisional primary school in an informal tent settlement for Syrian refugees in Zahlé, Lebanon
Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan
Teacher and students in the UNICEF school in Adana
Kinder spielen Fußball im UNHCR-Camp Kawergosk für syrische Flüchtlinge in der Region Kurdistan-Irak,

International donor conferences for the Syria crisis

The seventh Brussels donor conference entitled “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region (External link)” took place on 15 June 2023. With earlier conferences having been held in Kuwait (2013–2015), London (in 2016) and Brussels (since 2017), this was the 11th donor conference in support of the Syrian population and Syria’s neighbouring countries.

These conferences highlight the importance of the United Nations-led political process for resolving the Syrian crisis. They serve to mobilise financial support for overcoming the humanitarian crisis and to ensure that the involvement of the international community is co-ordinated and needs-oriented. The major task in the short term is to bring about tangible improvements in the living conditions of the refugees and the people in the host countries. A more 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, food security and the meeting of other basic needs as the areas most in need of addressing. Given the damage to Syria’s infrastructure caused by the war, the ongoing droughts in the region, the consequences of the earthquakes of 6 February 2023 and an outbreak of cholera in Syria, there is increased need for support with regard to water, sanitation and hygiene. It is also intended that people in the region will continue to receive support in the areas of legal protection, health and shelter.

According to calculations by the United Nations, meeting these needs in 2023 will require funding of 5.4 billion US dollars for the people of Syria and 5.7 billion US dollars for the neighbouring countries.

At the 11th Syria Conference on 15 June 2023, donors pledged a total of 5.56 billion euros in grants and 4 billion euros in loans. Germany committed a total of 1.05 billion euros (of which 568 million was from the BMZ budget). Germany has thus remained one of the largest donors to the region, alongside the European Commission and the US.

Examples of the BMZ’s involvement

The focus of the BMZ’s crisis response activities is on development measures that aimed at strengthening the resilience of people and local structures affected by the conflict in the medium and long term. These measures tie in with short-term humanitarian assistance contributions and aim to create an environment that will enable the population to become independent from emergency relief in the medium term. Within Syria, all BMZ interventions are implemented without any cooperation with the Syrian government or with the de facto authorities in North-West and North-East Syria.

Two examples of the BMZ’s regional approaches are the Partnership for Prospects and transitional development assistance in the context of the Syria crisis.

Example Transitional development assistance in the context of the Syria crisis

View of a ditch in the Kutupalong refugee camp, Cox Bazar in Bangladesh

Living conditions for people in Syria are poor in all respects: government authorities are not in a position to repair damaged infrastructure or supply households with basic goods and services. Most families have received humanitarian assistance at least once because of a lack of income.

The BMZ’s transitional development assistance has the aim of strengthening the resilience of the vulnerable Syrian population. On the one hand, this means restoring infrastructure, for example in the areas of water supply, agriculture and health. On the other, it also means improving access to informal education, training and income in order to create prospects for the future and raise living standards.

In Syria’s neighbouring countries, transitional development assistance primarily centres around relieving the increased pressure on basic infrastructure caused by hosting refugees. German support is contributing to improving healthcare, for example, and ensuring access to education for all. Support is also being given to activities that foster social cohesion.

Example Partnership for Prospects (P4P)

A cash-for-work project in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

In order to give refugees and local people in the region a better future, Germany launched an employment drive called Partnership for Prospects. One important aspect of this programme is the three-pronged approach: “jobs for adults – training for young people – schooling for children”, which is the guiding principle behind most of the measures.

“Cash for work” programmes create jobs that offer local people and refugees quickly available income, enabling them to improve their living conditions in a self-determined way. The outcomes of their work (e.g. new infrastructure) benefit the whole community. Jobs in areas such as education and healthcare provide social services like school lessons and medical care. Members of the local host communities are actively involved in the programmes. This contributes to social peace and helps to prevent social tensions.

In 2022, the programme created some 80,000 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 450,000 people. In 2022, the Partnership for Prospects also gave over half a million children in Syria’s neighbouring countries the opportunity to go to school.

As at: 05/02/2024