Middle East The Syria crisis

The catastrophic earthquakes that hit the Turkish-Syrian border region in February 2023 killed around 60,000 people, injured several hundred thousand and left millions homeless. The situation is particularly bad for women and children. The five million Syrian displaced persons living in the region have once again lost everything and have little prospect of being able to leave.

For more information on Germany’s rapid response and its continued support for people on the ground, follow this link: website of the Federal Foreign Office (External link).

The German Development Ministry (BMZ) is assisting the people in the region who have been affected by the earthquake. The BMZ had already been providing significant assistance to Syria since the conflict began. In southern Turkey and northern Syria, the area that was hit particularly hard by the earthquake, it is also funding projects to support Syrian people who have fled their homes and their host communities.

In the days and weeks immediately after the earthquakes, the BMZ quickly consulted with its partners on the ground and shifted some thirteen million euros from these ongoing projects towards emergency relief. The emergency activities focus on restoring basic services for the people.

These short-term activities include the procurement of relief items (medication, heaters, cookers, camp beds, fuel, etc.), support for rescue teams, the purchase of items for schools that are being used as emergency shelters, and the provision of psychological first aid teams. The money is also being used for the continued operation of 14 soup kitchens and for cash transfers to micro enterprises and particularly needy people to help them cope with the emergency in the short term.

In parallel, the BMZ is working with civil society and multilateral partners on the ground and with the implementing organisations running the German development projects in the region – GIZ and KfW Development Bank – to explore ways in which development cooperation can build on these measures. This would be, for example, the repair of damaged water supply systems, hospitals and schools. A commitment of 20 million euros has already been made for these reconstruction measures in the area affected by the earthquakes.

(Information valid as at June 2023)

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 15 million people in Syria are now dependent on humanitarian assistance, and more than 12 million 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: 5.2 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.

A large number of people from Syria have found refuge in Turkey (around 3.3 million). Large numbers have also found refuge in Lebanon and Jordan. Lebanon, which has a population of around four million, has received around 800,000 refugees, while Jordan, which has a population of around 9.5 million, has received around 660,000. Other host countries include Iraq (over 260,000 Syrian refugees) and Egypt (around 150,000). (All figures refer to officially registered refugees, as at September 2023.)

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 9.5 billion euros in the region between 2012 and 2022.

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: 13/06/2023