Sidra and Marwa are sisters, Syrian refugees, and living with disabilities. Both receive physical therapy care in Lebanon at Mousawat Rehabilitation Center, a Humanity & Inclusion partner.
Sidra, 15, and Marwa, 16, live with their family of seven in a tent in the Faida Camp for Syrian refugees, in Bekaa, Lebanon. They fled from Syria in 2011, at the beginning of the war.
Sidra has cerebral palsy and Marwa has scoliosis. Both disabilities cause pain and make it difficult for the sisters to walk and to move. They receive treatment at the Mousawat Rehabilitation Center, to improve their walking and balance, and strengthen their muscles. Physical therapy helps ease their pain and increase mobility, making their daily lives easier and empowering them to go to school.
During the physical therapy sessions, the girls do exercises to strengthen their arms, legs and core. They use weights, the treadmill and the bicycle. These exercises have a psychological effect, too: to gain physical strength and ability is the first step to boost self-esteem and combat anxiety.
Marwa’s scoliosis affects her physical and social functioning in a similar way. Marwa has experienced several accidents. For instance, she once lost her balance and broke a knee while playing. The injury limited her movement for months, and caused her distress and anxiety.
“I had a fear that my health situation wouldn’t improve before the school reopened, and I would have to walk with a limp in front of students,” Marwa says.
They both love playing with other children, but they experience bullying because of their disabilities. By improving their mobility, physical therapy sessions have helped the sisters feel more included at school.
“I see my children happier and more excited about life than ever before, whether during daily life activities, helping out at home, learning, playing or even when leaving the house,” their mother says.
“I hope when we are grown up we will be able find jobs and be able to help our family,” Marwa explains.
When he was 18, Hashim Mohamed Barawi was hit by a mortar in Syria. Doctors had to amputate both of his legs. Now living in Jordan, Hashim shares his story:
I used to work as a barber. In September 2012, a series of attacks lasting for a couple of hours occurred in my neighborhood. It was around 5 p.m., and a random mortar hit my shop. This incident was a landmark moment in my life. I had injuries all over my body. For months, I was in shock.
Just after the blast, I was unconscious. I was transferred to the nearest hospital, along with many others who were injured by the bombing. I stayed in the hospital for around 11 days, and when I woke up, the doctors told me they had to amputate both of my legs. I was shocked, and I was really in a lot of pain. Throughout this time, my mother was my pillar of strength and a constant source of support.
After I left the hospital, I used a wheelchair at all times. We soon decided to move in with relatives in a safer part of Syria, as the situation in my neighborhood worsened. The situation throughout all of Syria had deteriorated. Getting food and basic items became more and more difficult as prices rose. Ultimately, we decided to flee the country in April 2014, to travel to Jordan. We experienced several obstacles along the way, including unmarked borders and rough roadways.
After arriving in Jordan, I read about Humanity & Inclusion’s efforts to provide people with prosthetic limbs, and I contacted them. With the help of Humanity & Inclusion’s team, I completed rehabilitation sessions and followed a program. They provided me with artificial limbs, a mobility chair, crutches, and a bed to facilitate movement throughout the process.
The artificial limbs really changed my life. It was a bit challenging at first, and I had to fight through it. I used a wheelchair for almost a year before receiving my first artificial legs; learning how to walk with them and climb stairs was particularly difficult. I faced these difficulties for almost a year and a half. I exercised hard to maintain balance by walking with two crutches at first, then only one, until I was confident enough to walk without crutches. Eventually, I was able to stand on my own for the first time in two years!
Building a new life
In 2021, I secured a job in a plastics plant with support from Humanity & Inclusion’s livelihood team. It was another turning point in my life. I felt like things were falling back into place. Now, my family is enjoying stability and bonding. We are settling into our new surroundings and have formed friendships. Today, I am thinking about traveling abroad again to start a new, brighter chapter.
I miss my previous life in Syria, my friends, my evenings out, and my favorite places, but now I store all these memories in my mind and heart. There is no hope of returning to Syria. The circumstances will not allow it, and the situation has not changed.
The current economic crisis in Lebanon, which was aggravated by the deadly explosions in Beirut on August 4, 2020, is having a serious impact on communities living in vulnerable circumstances, including Syrian refugees and people with disabilities.
A young man and a teenager who receive care from the Mousawat Center, supported by Humanity & Inclusion, share their stories.
Mohammed Ali Raja, 26
Mohammed Ali Raja fled Syria to Lebanon in 2017 after a rocket attack left him with a spinal cord injury, causing him to experience paralysis from the waist down. His left leg had to be amputated. Humanity & Inclusion’s partner in Lebanon, the Mousawat Center, provided Mohammed with crutches and psychological support. They also referred Mohammed to the World Rehabilitation Fund (WRF), where he received a prosthetic leg and medical boots. Mohammad continues to receive for other health issues caused by his spinal injury.
On August 4, 2020, the Beirut blast killed more than 200 people and injured 7,500. For Mohammed, it triggered psychological trauma from his memories of the conflict in Syria.
“I was afraid to go to the bathroom after the blast because I was scared,” he says. “The feeling of fear got worse because I can’t escape if there is a problem.”
Due to the current economic collapse in Lebanon, Mohammed is in need of financial support. For example, the incontinence pads that he has to wear cost 100,000 pounds—more than $66—for a pack of 24. That is unaffordable at local salary rates, especially when Mohammed’s brother is the sole income provider for his family.
Mohammed’s hope for the future is to pursue education outside Lebanon, in a place where he can “work and be productive enough to cover my needs.” He would like to use his interest in biology to become a doctor or school teacher.
Mohammed Abboud al-Saleh, 14
Mohammed Abboud al-Saleh and his family fled from Syria to Lebanon several years ago. Unfortunately, he was struck by a car while crossing the street in Beirut. He suffered a spinal cord injury causing his legs to be paralyzed.
After 15 sessions at the Mousawat Center, Mohammed has made great progress. He can now stand with assistance and transfer himself from his wheelchair to a bed.
“There were movements I couldn’t do before, but now I can,” he says. “I am so happy.”
Being a wheelchair user is a day-to-day challenge for Mohammed. One time, his father was late to pick up him from school, so he was stuck on the third floor. His teacher was unable to move Mohammed by herself, so they had to wait for his dad to arrive and to call people from the street to help get Mohammed back down. It made Mohammed very upset and he said that he “felt lonely.” Like many places, schools often don’t have elevators or facilities for persons with disabilities. Even if they did, the current frequent electricity blackouts in Lebanon would likely cause a major issue.
Mohammed has big plans for the future. He would like to continue his studies and become a doctor or pharmacist. But his real passion is in acting! He posts challenges, pranks and sight-seeing videos to his thousands of subscribers on Youtube and TikTok.
When asked if he could go anywhere, Mohammed suggests a few places, all within miles of his home.
“I’d like to play with my friends and go for walks around the building and around these areas,” he says. “My biggest dream is to walk again.”
The United Nations Security Council has until July 10, to renew the Syria cross-border resolution, which ensures life-saving UN aid reaches millions of Syrians in need. NGO leaders are calling on the Security Council to renew the resolution for a period of 12 months and guarantee UN cross-border access to both North West and North East Syria.
The United Nations Security Council will soon be faced with a critical choice – whether to let avoidable suffering and loss of life proceed under its watch, or to take decisive action to support Syrian people in need, no matter where they are.
As Council Members you have a responsibility to uphold your commitments to the protection of civilians caught up in conflict and to ensure millions of Syrian families struggling to survive are not denied access to timely, life-saving humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian realities on the ground should drive Security Council action on the UN cross-border response in Syria. The level of crisis demands the reauthorization of cross-border assistance to North West Syria via Bab al Hawa and reinstating Bab al Salam crossing, for a minimum of 12 months. It also requires reinstating the Al Yarubiyah crossing in the North East, where needs have grown 38% since the crossing was closed in January 2020.
The Security Council came together in 2014 to authorize cross-border access, one of its few moments of unity in relation to this conflict. The imperative then, as it is now, was to ensure aid reached Syrians in a principled manner wherever they were, on the basis of need alone. Today, the needs and challenges people are facing across Syria are greater than ever before, with the number of those in need of assistance rising 20% in the last year alone. A decade of conflict has created one of the worst protection crises in the world, left millions food insecure and reliant on aid, and has forcibly displaced Syrians who continue to live in dire conditions.
Eighty-one percent of people in the North West and 69% in the North East are in need of aid, an estimated half of whom are children. For millions of Syrians who live in these areas, the cross-border mechanism has been a critical lifeline providing food, shelter, protection, medical and other lifesaving services.
Without a resolution that secures cross-border access for 12 months, humanitarian actors will be unable to adequately respond to growing needs and the spread of COVID-19 in North West and North East Syria. Without a resolution, the nascent COVID-19 vaccination campaign will be halted in its tracks for millions, undermining efforts to end the pandemic in the region and globally. Without cross-border access, we predict that one million people dependent on food baskets delivered by WFP will be left without food assistance by September 2021.
Reductions in aid harm the most vulnerable Syrians, including displaced populations, women, children, and persons with disabilities. Without a large-scale cross-border response, lives will be lost.
In the North West, the Council’s decision not to reauthorize the Bab al Salam crossing in July 2020 left the humanitarian response reliant on one single crossing point. This reduction in access has needlessly put people’s access to aid and now COVID-19 vaccinations at risk. Just three months ago the vicinity of the one remaining crossing, Bab al Hawa, came under attack, causing damage to NGO warehouses and humanitarian supplies. Ongoing violence risks cutting off the only remaining access to food, vaccinations, and other critical supplies for people in North West Syria. The authorization of both Bab al Hawa and Bab al Salam is critical to ensure regular and reliable supplies of aid to an area of Syria that is home to some of the most severe needs and largest displaced populations.
The Council’s decision in January 2020 to restrict the UN’s access through the removal of the Al Yarubiyah crossing point has had dire consequences in North East Syria. Just as the first cases of COVID-19 began to emerge across the globe, the Council’s decision delivered a huge blow to an already decimated healthcare sector in the North East. Now, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise and spread across densely populated displacement camps such as Al Hol, NGOs remain unable to fill the gaps that have been left, facing shortages of PPE, essential medicines, COVID-19 testing kits and medical supplies.
Principled humanitarian action through both cross-line and cross-border modalities in North West and North East Syria remain the only way to support millions of Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance. There is no alternative.
We look to you as Security Council members to ensure that this vital lifeline is extended and expanded, ensuring Syrian children don’t have to skip another meal, expectant mothers won’t miss out on maternal care, families don’t resort to negative coping mechanisms to survive, and humanitarians and healthcare workers are enabled to mount an effective battle against COVID-19. Our organizations' ability to maintain, much less expand, our life-saving aid and services is at stake. Now is not the time to scale back humanitarian access.
President & CEO, International Rescue Committee
Chief Executive Officer, Save the Children
Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro
Secretary-General, CARE International
Executive Director, Oxfam International
Chief Executive Officer, Norwegian Refugee Council
Andrew J. Morley
President & CEO, World Vision International
Samuel A. Worthington
Chief Executive Officer, InterAction
Chief Executive Officer, Concern Worldwide
Tjada D'Oyen McKenna
Chief Executive Officer, Mercy Corps
President, Refugees International
Global Managing Director, Humanity & Inclusion
Amanda Khozi Mukwashi
Chief Executive, Christian Aid
Dr. Jihad Qaddour
President, Syria Relief & Development (SRD)
Chief Executive, Syria Relief
Caoimhe de Barra
Chief Executive Officer, Trocaire
Managing Director, War Child Holland
Dr. Mufadddal Hamadeh
President, Syrian American Medical Society
Dr. Zaher Sahloul
Chief Executive Officer, Relief International
Dr. Jennifer Coolidge
President, Big Heart Foundation
Executive Director, People in Need
Chief Executive Officer, Hand in Hand for Aid and Development (HIHFAD)
Executive Director, Ihsan Relief and Development
Chief Executive Officer, Embrace Relief Foundation Inc
President and CEO, Mercy-USA for Aid and Development
Chief Executive Officer, VIOLET for Relief and Development
Ms. Nadia Alawa
Chief Executive Officer, NuDay
Mahmoud Al Shehadi
Chief Executive Officer, Orange Organization
More than 80 million people in the world are living forcibly displaced from their homes, according to the latest data from the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency. That number has doubled over the last decade, skyrocketing in the last few years.
Violent conflicts, human rights violations, weather-related disasters and food insecurity are among key factors forcing people to flee their homes.
Among the 80 million people currently displaced, 45.7 million are displaced inside their home country. Humanitarian law differentiates between these individuals, who are referred to as internally displaced people, and refugees, who flee their home and cross a border to seek refuge in another country.
More than two-thirds of all refugees come from just five countries:
- Syria: 6.6 million
- Venezuela: 3.7 million
- Afghanistan: 2.7 million
- South Sudan: 2.3 million
- Myanmar: 1 million
More and more people are displaced for years. For example, the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya was established in 1992 and has grown akin to a small city. With more an 180,000 people living there, it is one of the world’s largest refugee camps. The camp is home to refugees from Sudan, Uganda, Eritrea, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Humanity & Inclusion works alongside people living in the camp and nearby host communities to provide physical rehabilitation services and assistive devices such as wheelchairs and crutches, and improve the living conditions of for refugees, in particular those with disabilities, by ensuring equal access to services, raising awareness of discrimination and building the capacity of staff working with refugees to assess needs.
Displacement of people with disabilities
Approximately 15% of the 80 million people displaced worldwide are living with a disability. Globally, an estimated 12 million people with disabilities have been forcibly displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution.
Forced displacement disproportionately affects people with disabilities, who are often at higher risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, and face barriers to basic services, education and employment.
Having left behind their homes and belongings, many displaced people—including those with disabilities—depend on humanitarian organizations like Humanity & Inclusion to access health care, food, water, shelter and other necessities.
Header image: A man carries his daughter, who is wearing leg braces, through a refugee settlement in Lebanon. They are Syrian refugees. Copyright: Kate Holt/HI, 2021
Inline image: An occupational therapist helps a boy with prosthetic legs use a walker during a rehabilitation session at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. Copyright: Patrick Meinhardt/HI, 2019
Stop Bombing Civilians | U.S. and Russia among main perpetrators of civilian harm caused by airstrikes
As U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin prepare to meet on June 16 in Geneva, Switzerland, Humanity & Inclusion recognizes the two countries are among the main perpetrators of civilian harm caused by airstrikes.
According to Action on Armed Violence, the United States-led coalition, the Saudi-led coalition, Syria and Russia are key perpetrators of civilian harm from airstrikes since 2011.
“US-led and NATO airstrikes have been the deadliest this decade," explains Anne Héry, Humanity & Inclusion's Advocacy Director. "Combined, their airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen had 7,391 civilian casualties—with an extremely high fatality rate of 71%.
"In Syria, many airstrikes were conducted by Russian forces or with the support of Russian forces: Russia is responsible for at least 3,968 civilian casualties in Syria, according to AOAV.”
Bombing in populated areas: A major humanitarian issue
The use of explosive weapons in urban areas, including airstrikes, has systematic humanitarian consequences for civilian populations. Between 2011 and 2020, 91% of victims of explosive weapons in populated areas were civilians.
Explosive weapons kill and injure civilians, cause severe psychological trauma, destroy vital infrastructure such as schools, health centers and roads, and force people to flee their homes. Bombing also leaves behind explosive remnants of war that threaten the lives of civilians long after fighting is over. It is more vital than ever to adopt a strong political declaration to protect civilians.
Final stage of a diplomatic process
The draft of an international agreement against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is at its final negotiation stage between states, UN agencies, international organizations—including Humanity & Inclusion—and civil society. A final round of negotiations will be held in the Fall. Then, the international agreement is expected to be finalized by the end of 2021.
So far, more than 70 States have participated in this diplomatic process that began in October 2019.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, called States to avoid any use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas, creating a presumption against the use of heavy explosive weapons.
“Both Russia and the United States must be more supportive and together with other states develop a strong political declaration. This political declaration must change policies and practices of all militaries to better protect civilians from explosive weapons in populated areas.” —Anne Héry, HI Advocacy Director
Aid agencies are warning of a looming humanitarian catastrophe if the UN Security Council fails to renew a resolution allowing lifesaving aid delivered cross-border to reach Syria. The resolution is set to expire on July 10.
Humanity & Inclusion has joined a group of NGOs in warning that a failure to renew would put access to food assistance for more than 1 million people at stake, as well as Covid-19 vaccinations, critical medical supplies and humanitarian assistance for many more.
A group of 41 NGOs are warning that the provision of food supplies would be impossible to replace at the scale offered by the UN, which would be forced to stop operating if the resolution is not renewed. The World Food Programme provides 1.4 million Syrians with food baskets each month through the Bab al Hawa crossing. If the Security Council fails to support a renewal, these supplies would run out by September 2021. NGOs estimate they only have capacity to scale up to meet the needs of 300,000 people, leaving more than 1 million without food assistance.
A failure to renew the resolution would also put a halt to the UN-led Covid-19 vaccination campaign for people living in northwest Syria, where there have been at least 24,257 confirmed cases and 680 reported deaths, amid a spike in infection rates in the last month. The actual number of Covid-19 cases is likely higher due to low testing capacities.
Northwest Syria received its first batch of vaccines through the Bab al Hawa crossing at the Turkish border last month, but the continuation of this campaign relies on renewing the UN resolution, agencies said.
In the North West, there are 2.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance that can only be reached cross-border. The majority are women and children, many of whom have been displaced multiple times, as ongoing cycles of fighting have left no reprieve. In 2020, the authorization of cross-border assistance allowed humanitarian organizations to reach over 2.4 million people in need per month in the northwest region, including food for 1.7 million people, nutrition assistance for 85,000, and education for 78,000 children.
After 10 years of conflict, the number of people in need across Syria are at their highest ever levels, growing 20% in the last year alone. Syrians are contending with record levels of food insecurity and economic hardship. They now face the added risk of Covid-19, which continues to spread at an alarming rate while the healthcare infrastructure, decimated by years of conflict, remains woefully inadequate to respond.
Despite increasing needs, the Security Council has voted twice over the past 18 months to restrict humanitarian access to the country, leaving just one crossing for life-saving UN assistance to reach northwest Syria, and completely cutting off UN cross-border assistance to the northeast, with dire consequences.
NGOs warn that reliance on just one crossing point to the northwest, following the removal of the Bab al Salam crossing by the Security Council in July last year, puts ongoing aid access and a successful Covid-19 vaccination campaign to the region at risk. Despite a ceasefire agreement in March 2020, just three months ago the one remaining crossing, Bab al Hawa, came under attack, causing damage to NGO warehouses and humanitarian supplies. Ongoing violence could cut off the only remaining access to food, vaccinations, and other critical supplies for people in northwest Syria.
NGOs point to the fall out of the Council’s decision in January 2020 to restrict the UN’s access to northeast Syria through Al Yarubiyah as an important lesson of the fatal consequences such decisions have. Since the border has been closed to the UN, only a handful of medical shipments have made it to the region through alternative routes, with health facilities consequently facing shortages of special medicines such as insulin, and resources needed to tackle Covid-19 such as PPE and ventilators. In Al Hol camp, NGOs have reported that approximately 30% of patients with chronic diseases cannot be covered through the medication available in the camp.
NGOs are calling on the Security Council to reauthorize the cross-border resolution for another 12 months, and to reinstate the closed crossings, Bab al Salam in the northwest and Al Yarubiyah in the northeast, to ensure Syrians in need, wherever they are, can access lifesaving aid and humanitarian actors are able to respond effectively to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International said:
“After ten years of conflict and displacement, and now COVID-19 driving an economic crisis, an unprecedented number of children in Syria are battling hunger and malnutrition. And the numbers are rising, as parents lack access to fresh food and are left with no choice but to cut out meals. Children run the risk of their growth being stunted, which can impact their ability to learn and potentially increase the risk of depression or anxiety.
“The Security Council has an obligation to ensure aid continues to reach some of the most deprived families in the world, and not put politics above the lives of people as we have seen happen too often in the past. A failure to renew cross-border assistance for Syria is an abject acceptance of human suffering and entirely avoidable loss of life.”
David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee said:
The UN Security Council has failed the people of Syria for too long -- but the Covid crisis gives them the perfect reason to change course. Now is the time for humanitarian realities on the ground to drive determined and effective Security Council action on Syria. The humanitarian case for cross-border assistance is more obvious today than ever before, with over 13 million Syrians in need – a 30% increase since 2014. Syrians are worse off by nearly every measure than at almost any other point in the past decade. 81% of people in the northwest and 69% in the northeast are in need of aid. Malnutrition in children under five is skyrocketing.
"Syrian people need more aid and more humanitarian access- not less. We look to the Security Council to ensure that this vital cross-border lifeline is extended. The authorization of Bab al-Hawa, Bab al-Salam, and Yaroubiya for 12 months would help ensure aid - including food assistance and essential medical supplies - reaches Syrians experiencing the most acute needs via the most direct routes. The evidence is now in and action is now needed. There is no time for excuses.”
Sofía Sprechmann Sineiro, Secretary General of CARE International:
“Having shown incredible resilience these last ten long years, Syrians today stand at a breaking point. Drought, the COVID pandemic and greater economic instability add yet more risk factors to an already toxic cocktail of ongoing violence, protracted displacement and personal trauma. Syrian women face their biggest survival challenge: in Northeast and Northwest Syria they tell us that the collapsing economy and soaring food prices are forcing them to sell their belongings and reduce the number of meals they can give to their children each day.
"As we continue to battle COVID-19 globally, now is not the time to scale back the crucial supply of cross-border aid delivery that Syrians are wholly reliant upon. We urge the Security Council to uphold its responsibility and ensure Syrians have sustained access to life-saving assistance by reauthorizing all three border crossings without delay. Without the renewal of the cross-border resolution, we will face a humanitarian catastrophe.”
Tjada D'Oyen McKenna, CEO of Mercy Corps said:
“Since 2014, the UN cross border resolution has made it possible for lifesaving food, water, and medicine to successfully reach Syrians in need through the most expeditious routes possible. It would be imprudent, short-sighted and unacceptable to change course now, when a global pandemic and skyrocketing food insecurity threaten millions of lives across the country. Sustained humanitarian access inside Syria is needed now more than ever. Failure to renew this important cross border mechanism will have catastrophic consequences for millions of people.”
Save the Children
International Rescue Committee
World Vision International
Norwegian Refugee Council
Humanity & Inclusion
Islamic Relief USA
Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS)
Syria Relief and Development
Terre des Hommes Italy
People in Need
Big Heart Foundation
International Medical Corps
Rahma Worldwide for Aid and Development
American Relief Coalition for Syria
Social Development International SDI
Syrian Expatriate Medical Association (SEMA)
Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM)
The Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
Ihsan Relief and Development
International Humanitarian Relief (IHR)
Zenobia Association For Syrian Women
Violet Organization for Relief and Development
IYD Humanitarian Relief Association
Bousla Development & Innovation
ONG Rescate Syria
Un Ponte Per (UPP)
Life for Relief and Development
March 15 marks the tenth anniversary of the conflict in Syria, and the humanitarian crisis is only getting worse. Humanity & Inclusion is working in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt with Syrians who have lost everything. Humanitarian needs are acute, while access to the people who need help remains a major challenge. Even when the conflict ends, rebuilding Syria will take generations. The level of destruction of infrastructure, contamination by explosive devices—an unprecedented level in the history of mine clearance—and the scale of population displacement pose enormous challenges.
Silver Spring, Maryland—After a decade of war, continuous bombing and shelling in populated areas have had appalling humanitarian consequences: thousands of deaths and life-changing injuries, psychological trauma, families torn apart, forced displacement, destruction of essential infrastructure like hospitals, schools, water lines, and bridges, and ever worsening poverty. Humanity & Inclusion is working in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt with Syrians who have lost everything and need humanitarian aid to survive.
At least one-third of homes in Syria are damaged or destroyed. Major cities like Raqqa, Aleppo and Homs have been largely destroyed by extensive and intense use of explosive weapons. 80% of the city of Raqqa was destroyed in 2017. Massive, continuous bombing and shelling has left millions of people without homes and forced them to flee.
The level of contamination is unprecedented in the history of mine clearance: contamination from unexploded ordnance, such as bombs, rockets and mortars that did not explode on impact, and other explosive hazards such as landmines and booby traps, is so severe that it will take generations to make Syria safe. 11.5 million people are currently living in areas contaminated by explosive hazards.
"Syria is a special case in terms of contamination for two reasons,” says Emmanuel Savage, Director of Armed Violence Reduction at Humanity & Inclusion. “After a decade of conflict, Syrian soil is contaminated by a complete spectrum of explosive weapons including unexploded bombs, explosive remnants and booby traps, and improvised mines. The second reason lies in the type of areas affected: mostly urban areas. We know from experience that explosive remnants in urban areas are particularly difficult to clear, amid thousands of tons of rubble. We also have to think about how to support individuals. Syrians have experienced the horrors of war, and they need physical and psychological support. Physical trauma such as amputations, brain and spinal cord injuries, but also psychological trauma need specific care. I think it will take at least two generations to rebuild Syria."
Contamination with explosive remnants of war is one of the significant obstacles preventing the safe return of refugees and displaced persons in Syria. It will also be a major obstacle to rebuilding Syria, its economy and social fabric. Rebuilding cities and infrastructure in Syria will require complex and expensive clearance operations.
"Massive bombing and shelling of cities is a deadly cocktail for civilians," says Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion. "The human suffering caused by bombing population centers must stop. In Syria, but also Iraq and Yemen, we witness the disastrous consequences for civilians over and over. Decisive policy victories against landmines (1997) and cluster munitions (2008) give us hope—we have a historic opportunity to clearly say ‘stop’ to the bombing of places where populations are concentrated. The U.S. and other States must commit to the current diplomatic process for an international agreement against the use of explosive weapons where civilians live. We must all recognize the indiscriminate human suffering caused when explosive weapons are deployed in populated areas, as well as the lasting effects. Older principles of international humanitarian law do not adequately address this challenge."
Acute humanitarian needs
As violence continues across Syria, over 13 million people need humanitarian assistance—more than 6 million of whom are children. Access to basic services (health, food, clean water, shelter, etc.) remains an absolute priority.
Within Syria, 6.7 million people are displaced—many of whom have moved multiples times. This is the largest internally displaced population in the world. Nearly a quarter of people have disabilities—close to double the global average. 5.6 million Syrians are refugees in neighboring countries and heavily rely on humanitarian aid.
The current humanitarian crisis is aggravated by an acute economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, making an already severe situation worse. Humanitarians struggle to access all communities in need and face mounting security risks: in 2020, there were 65 recorded attacks on aid workers, nearly half of those attacked were killed. It is estimated that there have been at least 100,000 COVID-19 cases in Government of Syria-controlled territory alone.
As health infrastructure has been destroyed by bombing, health services are unable to cope with this additional health crisis. Only half of hospitals and primary healthcare centers across Syria are fully functional.
- 13 million-plus people need humanitarian assistance, more than 6 million of whom are children
- 6.7 million people are displaced inside the country – often multiple times. This is the largest internally displaced population in the world
- Nearly 1/4 of people have disabilities, which is nearly double the global average
- 11.5 million people live in areas contaminated by explosive hazards
- 5.6 million Syrians refugees living in neighboring countries
- 1.8 million Syrians have been helped by Humanity & Inclusion in 6 countries since 2012
Humanity & Inclusion experts available for comment
- Amy Rodgers, Humanitarian Policy Coordinator
- Federico Dessi, Regional Director of the Middle East Programs
- Caroline Duconseille, Country Manager in Lebanon
- Rosanna Rosengren-Klitgaart, Country Manager in Jordan
Relevant Humanity & Inclusion reports on the impact of explosive weapons
- The use of explosive weapons in populated area: it is time to act, 2018, Briefing paper
- The Waiting List. Addressing the immediate and long-term needs of victims of explosive weapons in Syria, 2019, Report
- The Long-Term Impact of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas in Yemen, 2020, Study.
- A Persistent Danger: Unexploded Ordnance in Populated Areas, 2020, Briefing Paper
- Everywhere the bombing followed us, 2017, Report
These reports are being used to inform the ongoing international negotiations between states towards a political declaration to avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
About Humanity & Inclusion
Humanity & Inclusion is an independent international aid organization. It has been working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict, and disaster for 39 years. Working alongside people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, our action and testimony are focused on responding to their essential needs, improving their living conditions, and promoting respect for their dignity and basic rights. Since it was founded in 1982, Humanity & Inclusion has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. The network of eight national associations (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States) works constantly to mobilize resources, jointly manage projects, and to increase the impact of the organization’s principles and actions. Humanity & Inclusion is one of six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 and the winner of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2011. Humanity & Inclusion acts and campaigns in places where “living in dignity” is no easy task.
Thirty-five of the leading aid agencies have joined together to warn of the suffering and increased, irreversible, damage if the growing humanitarian needs in Syria are not met and a political solution is not found. The 35 agencies have highlighted that a decade since the outset of the conflict, living conditions for many Syrians are worse than ever. The statement reads:
“Monday March 15th will mark 10 years since the onset of the crisis in Syria. A decade of conflict in Syria risks creating further irreversible impact to millions of displaced civilians and on the region unless world powers use all their influence to stop the crisis. There continues to be violence and indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure.
Inside Syria over 80% of people are living in poverty and food insecurity levels are at a record high. Over 12.4 million people are food insecure and a further 1.8 million are at risk. 12.2 million Syrians lack regular access to clean water and 2.4 million children are currently out of school. The COVID-19 global pandemic has only exacerbated the human suffering. Vital infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools, markets, homes and roads have been damaged or destroyed throughout the conflict. Many that are still standing have become shelters for those displaced by the conflict. Syrians are also facing rising inflation as a result of the declining value of the Syrian Pound, widespread unemployment, and increasingly common fuel shortages. Basic goods are no longer affordable for many, forcing families to reduce the amount of meals they put on the table or trade what little food they do have for medicine.
The protracted displacement crisis as a result of the Syrian conflict is the worst since the Second World War. 5.6 million Syrians remain displaced in neighboring countries, of which 2.5 million are children. 6.2 million remain internally displaced across different parts of Syria.
In the neighboring countries, 5.5 million Syrian refugees and 4.8 million impacted host community members are in need of humanitarian assistance, with COVID-19 increasing poverty and risk of sexual-gender based violence. Most have little legal protections and few livelihood opportunities. Nearly 580,000 Syrian refugees are in need of resettlement, less than 2% have had their cases submitted last year and far more than the resettlement spaces available. The UN is warning that there are record low levels of resettlement.
We call on the international community to step up its aid to Syrians across the country and in refugee-hosting countries and recognize its responsibility to support refugees. Cross-border access into Syria must be maintained, and humanitarian access within the country must also be strengthened. The EU-hosted Brussels V March ministerial conference on March 29th-30th is the best opportunity for the world to show it has not forgotten about Syria and to act to end the growing suffering. We also call on governments with influence over the warring parties to use their pressure to seek an end to this brutal conflict and spare millions more Syrians from the violence. It is essential that we invest both in urgent humanitarian needs and long-term development to help build resilience well into the future. We must allow Syrians to live a better life where income-generating opportunities, repaired homes, functioning public infrastructure, clean water, basic services, and hope for the future are existent and accessible to all - otherwise the impact of a decade of conflict will be irreversible”.
- ACT Alliance
- Action Against Hunger
- Basmeh & Zeitooneh Relief & Development
- Cadus e.V.
- CARE International
- Caritas Germany
- Center for Civil Society and Democracy
- Christian Aid
- Diakonie Katasrophenhilfe
- Hurras Network
- Humanity & Inclusion
- humedica international aid
- International Medical Corps
- International Rescue Committee
- Médecins du Monde
- Orange Organization
- Norwegian People’s Aid
- Norwegian Refugee Council
- Peace Winds Japan
- People In Need
- Right To Play
- Save The Children
- Solidarités International
- Syria Relief
- Syria Relief & Development
- Terre des Hommes
- Terre des Hommes Italia
- War Child
- World Vision
Data on food insecurity via World Food Programme, https://www.wfp.org/news/twelve-million-syrians-now-grip-hunger-worn-down-conflict-and-soaring-food-prices
Data on access to water via UNICEF, https://www.unicef.org/syria/water-sanitation-and-hygiene
Data on education via UNICEF, https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/after-almost-ten-years-war-syria-more-half-children-continue-be-deprived-education
Data on scale of the displacement via UNHCR, https://edition.cnn.com/2016/06/20/world/unhcr-displaced-peoples-report/index.html
Data on refugees via Unicef https://www.unicef.org/appeals/syrian-refugees and 3RP, http://www.3rpsyriacrisis.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/RNO_3RP.pdf
Data on internally displaced people via UNHCR, https://www.unhcr.org/sy/internally-displaced-people
Mohamad is one of thousands of Syrian bombing victims. Paralyzed from the waist down after an explosion in 2012, he has learned to live again, with help from Humanity & Inclusion.
Mohamad was returning home after work down a crowded street when an explosion suddenly ripped through the air. This is his story, in his own words:
I woke up four or five hours later in a field hospital. The first words I heard from the doctors were: “He has a one-in-a-hundred chance of survival.”
I had surgery, thank God. I lay on my back for six months before I came to Jordan for essential medical care.
My hip broke as I was being treated and I developed pelvic calcification. My health was very bad at the time. I was very depressed as well.
I’ve had rehabilitation care and I was given a medical device, a bed, a wheelchair, a walking frame, casts, and a special chair for the bathroom. They’re a big help. But it’s hard to find yourself in a wheelchair overnight. I had problems accepting my new condition. But I've come to terms with it now.
Life was different before my injury. It was great. I worked in the stone-dressing business. I used to go out with my friends. I enjoyed swimming. I also liked riding my motorbike.
I felt I had to work hard to overcome my handicap. I followed a training course in crafts–assembling accessories, creating perfumes, and making candles–and then became a trainer myself. We recently organized an exhibition at the Arabela shopping center in Irbid. We also visited several bazaars. It was a great experience.
Humanity & Inclusion and the Syria crisis
Since the organization began its response to the Syria crisis in 2012, Humanity & Inclusion has helped 1.8 million Syrians in six countries through emergency rehabilitation, psychological support, and supplying prosthetics and other assistive devices. As of December 2020, Humanity & Inclusion provided 14,000 prosthetics or orthotics to Syrians and conducted rehabilitation sessions with 180,000 people. Learn more about our work and the Syria crisis.